What is in this article?:
- Former inspector says organic food inspections lacking
- Huge marketing coup
- Questions fertilizer sources
• A recent Stanford University study said its researchers found no more nutritional value in organically-grown than in conventionally-produced food.
• Like many stories surrounding the environmental movement, certification of organic foods has taken a lot of twists and turns before evolving into the system that governs inspection of organic foods today.
TODD BARLOW, left, with Syngenta Crop Protection in Louisville, Ky., visits with Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture John McMillan at the Southern Crop Production Association annual meeting.
Huge marketing coup
“What that regulation has bestowed upon them is the biggest marketing coup that any industry could ever hope for. That’s illustrated by the fact that under the USDA, the National Organic Program is not located under the science or verification branches or any of the inspection function. It’s located under AMS, the Agricultural Marketing Service.
“It’s right there in black and white even before you get into all the gory details. They have literally created a federally-sanctioned marketing system for their cause.”
One group of organic farmers, which had set up a self-certification program for its crops, decided to expand its program to other countries. The extension of the program allows growers in those countries to export organic food to the U.S. under the USDA certification guidelines.
The USDA’s National Organic Program contains a testing requirement, but it’s a far cry from the rigorous standards the Environmental Protection Agency has established for reviewing new pesticide products.
The testing standard does result in states such as California, Arizona and Texas requiring some testing — about 5 percent — of food products. That testing generally is done on end products and not in the field.
“So it’s really useless because a lot of the substances that are prohibited in organic food production have dissipated by the time they’re harvested,” says Popoff. “Modern agriculture has done away with persistent chemicals. We’ve moved to pesticides which dissipate rapidly. Therefore they’re very safe, and you won’t see these in the end products.”
The gatekeepers for the certification program charge a royalty fee of 1.5 percent to 3 percent of the farm’s receipts and $2,000 up front for inspections.
Popoff says organic farmers are required to fill out large amounts of paperwork to satisfy the USDA certification program, but the latter requires almost no verification of the claims the crops have not received applications of synthetic fertilizer or been treated with pesticides.
Among his other work, Popoff has studied the history of synthetic nitrogen production since its development in Germany prior to World War I. The discovery of a method for converting nitrogen in the air to commercial fertilizer was one of the most important breakthroughs in modern history, he believes.
Before Fritz Haber created this process, most of the world’s farmers had to rely on manures to provide nutrients for their crops, he noted. Composting and handling manure can be a time-consuming and laborious process.