Since I grew up eating such nutritionally-challenged foods as fried Spam sandwiches, I do not even pretend to be a food purist.
So even though I’m a strong proponent of organic foods, I recognize that there are times when processors are unable to get some particular organic ingredient – for example, organic beer might sometimes include conventionally-produced hops. Recognizing this reality, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “certified organic” program allows up to five percent of a certified product to consist of non-organic ingredients.
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However, this exemption was not meant to be a loophole big enough to drive a chemical truck through. Any non-organic substance has to be reviewed and approved by the Organic Standards Board, and use of these substances was supposed to be temporary, while users searched for organic alternatives.
But such agribusiness giants as Kraft and Dean Foods have surged into the multibillion-dollar organic market, and they view the organic certification program not as an assurance of integrity, but as a marketing tool. So they have lobbied to expand the use of synthetics. At the start of USDA’s certification program in 2002, only 77 non-organic ingredients were on the allowable list, which was supposed to shrink over time. Today, 245 synthetics are listed.
Barbara Robinson, the corporate-friendly director of the agency’s organic program, agrees with the giants that the main purpose of the organic label is not to protect consumers, but to “grow the industry.” How bizarre – to expand organic production, they say they must eliminate the requirement that it be organic! Who knows, even Spam might qualify now.
A better idea is to eliminate Robinson and all the corporate pretenders. Tell Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack to do just that. Here’s his number: 202-720-3631.