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Author: admin, 16.04.2014. Category: Vegetable Garden

We're thinking of signing up for one of those organic food and vegetable delivery boxes. These examples of healthy food packaging from Essential Living Foods show off an Organic Premium Superfood range of products. Even though products like goji berries and cacao are getting a boost in popularity with more people becoming more interested in investing in their own health, some of these superfoods would be difficult for the average person to identify by picture alone, even if the words sound familiar.
Thus began my year-long investigation into organic agriculture, culminating in a thesis for my undergraduate degree. The organic movement started as a part of the 1960s counterculture and sought to challenge industrial agriculture by growing food in a different way – without petrochemical fertilizers. This price premium certainly looked attractive to some conventional farmers who were facing increasing input costs and decreasing market prices. The simplest way this could be done is to allow natural inputs and prohibit synthetic inputs. As state-level regulations began to be adopted, differences in standards made it difficult to sell organic foods out of state. When the USDA released their proposed regulations for public comment seven years later they received an unprecedented 275,000 comments – largely negative!
The organic movement successfully mobilized consumers to pressure the USDA to rewrite the proposal with stronger rules governing what it means for food to be organic.
But looking closer at the regulations shows that the commercial interests of organic producers are prioritized over the principle of ecological sustainability. When a court ruled in Harvey’s favour, the Organic Trade Association, which represents the organic industry, decided that its responsibilities to its members required “discreet, very limited action to amend the OFPA” (this quote is from their website). Some would argue that the growth in the organic sector is a step in the right direction – consumers are demanding less chemicals and therefore a greater variety of organic foods are becoming more widely available. In 2009 Canada and the United States entered in an agreement to recognize each other’s organic regulations. To do your own research on the organic food label, you could start with the Canadian Organic Growers website.
MAFRA BlogThe opinions reflected in the blogs are those of the individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of MAFRA or its partner organizations. The line includes items like mesquite and maca powder, chia seeds and coconut sugar crystals, each of which is branded in a clear and simple way to show off the purity of each superfood, as well as highlight a few of its benefits. This packaging by Make & Matter does a great job at showing what the natural ingredients look like as plants in nature to deepen the connection with the product. But this sounded a little questionable. But I don’t think you would want to read through all 60 pages so I’ve decided to cut to the chase with a blog. Cover crops, compost, crop rotations and other principles of agroecology differentiated organic from conventional agriculture.

As more farmers turned to organic production, it was necessary to develop certification standards to protect against fraud and pass information to consumers about how the food was produced. In order to facilitate the growth of the organic sector, organic growers pressured for a federally regulated label. The farmers and consumers that responded were particularly concerned that the proposal allowed genetically modified organisms, sewage sludge as a fertilizer, and irradiation to kill bacteria and insects. The revised proposal, which was passed into law in the US in 2002, had removed the ‘big three’ and defined the term organic as “a production system that is managed in accordance with the Act and regulations in this part to respond to site-specific conditions that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity”. There were still concerns with the regulations, such as what “access to pasture” really means for certified organic animals. Through closed-door lobbying the OTA had the law changed to facilitate the use of synthetic inputs in organic processing. The environmental benefits of ‘industrial organic’ foods (produced without synthetic fertilizers but with high-energy industrial processes and likely shipped thousands of kilometers) are debatable.
There are differences between regulations in these two countries, and fortunately for Canadian soil and groundwater, sodium nitrate is not allowed in our organic production standards. Laura is a research assistant working on a research project exploring local food, food sovereignty and rural adaptation.
This intrigued me because, although I was slightly concerned with the proliferation of organic TV dinners at the grocery store, I was under the impression that no synthetic chemicals = better for the environment. My goal was to examine how organic agriculture grew from the a back-to-the-land movement to an industry and what that means for ecological sustainability and eaters like you and I. By growing their own food, distributing it at community kitchens or selling it at roadside stands, the organic movement sought to engage people to change their personal consumption patterns and, ultimately, build a more just and sustainable food system. Developing certification standards was difficult because it required that the complex processes, such as building soil fertility, be simplified so an inspector could visit a farm and determine if it was indeed “organic”. Some natural inputs are known to have toxic effects, and many alternatives are not widely available. In 1990 the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) mandated that the United State Department of Agriculture – which has long advocated industrial agriculture – to develop federal regulations for an organic food label. GMOs had been in the food system for a few years without much public opposition but this was the first time that the public was able to comment on them and the lack of available research on the environmental impacts of these seeds led many to feel GMOs had no place in organic agriculture.
The regulations stated that any product made of 95 percent organic ingredients can be labeled ‘organic’ and have the USDA organic logo – this was intended for microingredients, such as spices, which could be difficult to source organically. This not-so-discreet action meant business-as-usual for many  agrofood conglomerates that had bought or created organic brands.
Labels are an important means by which information passes along the food chain from farm to fork, but risk being ‘hollowed out’ by shallow practices. Foods produced with the use of sodium nitrate in the US cannot be sold as organic in Canada.

It makes no claims of practices beyond regulatory requirements, nor of labour standards, animal treatment or health benefits.
I assume the box is left on your doorstop- just in time for the ravenous street urchins of Battersea to take their pick; no doubt in the name of sweet charity. And it worked to the extent that a niche market for organic foods had developed by the 1980s. A case-by-case evaluation of inputs that could be used on certified organic crops turned into a list of allowable and regulated inputs.
A label effectively serves as a substitute for trust – many of us aren’t often able to see how, when or where our food is grown so labels tell us what our food is, and perhaps, what makes it distinct. While most industries want weak government regulations, organic farmers both big and small, as well as consumers, saw the importance of strengthening the regulations so that organic foods would remain distinct from conventional foods in the marketplace. Any food made of 70 percent organic ingredients can be labeled ‘made with organic ingredients’. This is why it is so important that environmental regulations be developed in a democratic and participatory way to uphold and strengthen the meaning of the label. All organic farmers face the pressure to intensify by producing more crops with higher yeilds, which reflects the wider political economy in which they operate. The most controversial input was sodium nitrate, also called Chilean nitrate because of where it is mined.
Immediately after the regulations were published, a blueberry farmer from Maine named Arthur Harvey filed a lawsuit against the USDA. Even if it didn’t transform the food system, at least sustainable production methods meant that farmers could charge higher prices to compensate them for the costs of production.
Sodium nitrate can be used to give plants an extra boost in dry winter climates to extend the growing season, but it is known to kill microorganisms in soil and increase sodium levels in groundwater.
Because the Organic Food Production Act stated that certified processing operations “shall not…add any synthetic ingredient during the processing or any postharvest handling of the product”, he claimed that the USDA standards did not uphold the mandate set by the law. When larger organic producers, such as Cal-Organic, threatened to abandon certification if sodium nitrate wasn’t allowed, many certifying agencies allowed it as a ‘reasonable exemption’.
I for one try to buy organic, but ‘voting with my shopping cart’ is not enough – social movements and civil society organizations continue to play a vital role in pressuring government to enact and uphold regulations that protect environmentally sustainable agriculture practices. With the focus on allowable inputs, the importance of minimized agroecological processes was minimized.
Organic agriculture can and is making a huge impact on food production – but let’s not stop now!

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