Beyond Organics: Truth in Labeling
Listening to the latest (May 2011) Earth Eats* installment got my ire up...it was the opening news segment...just one more spotlight shining on the corruption in the food industry.
The first news story was about the latest school district ban on flavored milk (good for you, Los Angeles public school system...now how about cleaning up the rest of your franken-food offerings?). The LAUSD decided that the "negative effects of these artificially sweetened beverages outweigh their nutritional benefits." [Ummm...Hello?! WHAT nutritional benefits? No time to dwell on that now...] The reporter correctly pointed out that the amount of sugar in the "milk" is the same as in Coca-Cola and Mountain Dew. Of course, as the food news highlighted, the dairy industry's response to the ban was a lame attempt to defend the corn syrup-ladened, processed, industrialized fake-food milk product, by stating, "the sugar is necessary for the children to enjoy drinking milk and thus receive the calcium and other nutrients they need." You have GOT to be kidding me! These industrial food people and their PR...it's just too much. And we, the public, are supposed to continue buying their crafty spin? Wake up, America!
But it gets worse...the conventional food industry is not the only villain at large. How many people, attempting to make healthy food choices, realize that the Organic food industry is not what it may seem? [In the following, "big O" Organic stands for the Organic industry; "little o" organic means natural, clean, real food.] Case in point, as the food news continues...Organic Valley, the nation's largest "name-brand marketer" of Organic eggs, has been accused of violating "federal organic standards" by not giving the chickens enough time outdoors. Yet the USDA standards are not clearly defined...the agency does not specify what it means to be outdoors. Organic Valley's practice (which has been certified by the state of California, where the farms are located) is to confine the birds to porches...with roofs and floors. There is no free ranging and foraging on pasture, little to no exposure to sunshine; this greatly affects the nutrition (or should I say lack of nutrition) in those eggs! How do you get vitamin D from an egg that was laid by a hen who receives no vitamin D? A natural chicken's diet includes grass and bugs...without which the bird is not optimally healthy, which translates into missing nutrients in the eggs.
This is just one example of the Organics industry revealing its true colors as the government-regulated cousin of the conventional, industrial food system. Organic standards are defined by government; that, by the very nature of the system, makes the standards obscure and inferior. Once-small, independent organic companies by-and-large have sold out to the system. Even the goliath industrial food companies are jumping on the Organics bandwagon. The commercial term "Organic" no longer means what it once did. The moment it became federally standardized and regulated, it became adulterated.
Let's return to the egg example. Consumers "in the know" want eggs from healthy, humanely raised chickens...organically fed, drug-free, pain-free, allowed to roam freely outside in the sunshine and fresh air to eat naturally from pasture teeming with nutrient-dense grass and bug life. (That is what consumers should want, as those would be the only nutritionally worthwhile and morally supportable eggs to eat.) So consumers who do not buy their eggs directly from a small farm shop for eggs by reading cartons or buying based on reputation. Consumers look for certain keywords and catch phrases...free range, cage free, etc. But what do these terms really mean? And there's the rub. Because the terms are defined and protected by government regulatory agencies, they mean very little.
By USDA standards, the term "free range" qualifies for any operation in which the birds are "allowed access to the outside." The farmer must simply house the birds in a facility with a "chicken door" that opens to the outside. That's it. No regulation stating that the birds must actually GO outside, and no standards about what OUTSIDE means...could be a very small concrete patio with a roof (oh yeah, like Organic Valley's facilities). The sad truth is that when the birds are raised in confinement, they will not choose to venture through that door to the vast world outside. They are conditioned from birth to live within the walls and that is where they remain. Is that free range? Not by a stretch. Truth in labeling? I think not.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The ugly truth behind the Organics industry spreads deep and wide. The Organic label is not the panacea we deserve it to be. For example, did you know that the majority of Organic lettuce grown in this country (primarily in CA and western states) is watered with rocket fuel? Did I get your attention? Much of the Organic lettuce (and other produce) grown in the west is irrigated with water from the polluted Colorado River. One of the toxins found on the lettuce was perchlorate (yep, rocket fuel...sadly, it's in just about every water supply in America). The amount of perchlorate measured on the lettuce was "thousands of times higher than what the EPA considers to be a safe amount..." I don't know about you, but I hesitate to call lettuce contaminated by polluted irrigation water "organic."
Even the regulations regarding allowable chemicals in Organic farming are loose and confusing. For the sake of wrapping up, I will leave you to read for yourself:
I will close by urging you to examine more carefully what Organic really means in the marketplace. I hope to propel you toward further study and questioning. It is ludicrous for us to trust the government and expect it to keep our best health interests at heart. And we cannot rely upon the for-profit food industry (including the Organic industry) to benevolently maintain excellence in clean food standards. Whole Foods certainly won't protect you. And don't forget the far-reaching effects of the biggest baddie on the block, Monsanto, who is soon going to be allowed to "police" itself, which shouldn't be a surprise considering that Monsanto man Michael Taylor is "food czar" of the FDA. Can you say collusion? I would love to go into minute detail, point by point, of the profuse and critical issues. But I cannot. So I leave you to begin (or continue, depending on your current knowledge base) your research here.
I leave you with this final thought. We need to get beyond Organic, eject from the system, and pursue truly clean, organic, real food. We need to demand more. Vote with your fork! Until next time, be well and Become Your Own Expert!
Please visit the following website to learn more about how your "free range" birds are being raised. (You absolutely do not need to be a vegan to care about the well-being of your food animals. And you do not need to eschew animal foods to ensure humane treatment and care of food animals. More on this in future.)
Read more about toxic water on your vegetables:
The following is a decent site for news and information regarding the Organics realm (I do not claim it to be above reproach...I am not a fan of everything there, but it's a good place to start):
*Broadcast by Indiana Public Media (and NPR), the Earth Eats podcast features information about real food and green living (check it out at http://indianapublicmedia.org/eartheats/podcasts/ or on itunes).