Curing Diseases Through Your Diet

Every week, news stories reveal that taking a particular herb, food or supplement can have a positive effect on our health. Many diseases can be reversed, controlled and cured if we change the way we eat or through other natural means.

Doesn't it make sense to learn how what we eat can help prevent and even cure such diseases. This blog is dedicated to providing such information directly and through valuable links and other resources.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Is Organic Food Really Organic? Maybe Not!

If You Think 'Organic' Food is 'Organic', Think Again...

The last decade has witnessed an increased interest in things "organic" as more and more consumers seek out products that are healthy, ethical, and environmentally friendly. Nowhere is this more evident that in the food industry.

In fact, the organic food industry has gone from a cottage industry start up to a multi-billion dollar business in less than a decade. Global sales of organic food were estimated to be $40 billion in 2006 with the world organic market growing rapidly by about 20% annually. In the US, organic food products are the fastest growing sector of the food marketplace.

Because of the rapid growth of the organic food industry, it is no surprise that big food companies and retailers have joined the act. Because of these alliances, unlikely organic products are sprouting up everywhere including organic cheetos and organic McDonalds coffee. The new movie FOOD INC eloquently speaks to this issue. Hershey Foods owns Dagoba, Kraft owns Boca Foods and Back to Nature, and Heinz is a big investor in Hain Celestial which is connected to many small organic companies including Earth's Best, Spectrum Organics, and Frutti di Bosco.

So who standardizes and regulates this burgeoning worldwide industry? Every country has its own regulations in labeling organic products.

In the USA, the Organic Food Production Act was passed in 1990 giving mandate to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to set national standards and in 2002, the USDA set up the National Organic Program (NOP) to regulate organic food products. The USDA regulations cover issues such as genetic modification, radiation, bioengineering, pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, and other
man-made chemicals but they do not cover some environmental as well as ethical and social issues.

Certification covers all processes involved from production to processing, packaging and transport. The products that fall under NOP jurisdiction are fresh and processed
agricultural food products, including dairy products, meat and livestock and food crops. It covers food products only and does not include non-food organic crops such as cotton and plants for cosmetics and personal care products.

Because the NOP is a very small understaffed subagency it cannot undertake inspection of food producers to verify organic claims and thus is dependent on no less than 54 accredited agencies within the US in addition to 44 accredited foreign agencies for products produced outside the US.

In the US, the following terminology is allowed on organic food products.

"100% organic" - single ingredient such as a fruit, vegetable, meat, milk and cheese (excludes water and salt).

"Organic" - multiple ingredient foods which are 95 to 100% organic.

"Made with organic ingredients" - 70% of the ingredients are organic. Can appear on the front of package, naming the specific ingredients.

"Contains organic ingredients" - contains less than 70% organic ingredients.

To say the least, organic labeling is both complicated and confusing. However, only those products that meet the '100% organic' and 'organic' criteria are allowed to carry the USDA Organic seal and the USDA emphasizes that the term 'organic' is not synonymous to 'natural' or 'all-natural'.

In addition to the labeling conundrum and the dependency of the NOP on other entities for certification, all is not well in the organic realm. Several well-publicized events point to the fact that current regulation by the NOP may
not be effective.

(1) In 2005 The Cornucopia Institute filed a complaint against Aurora Organic Dairy for multiple violations of federal organic regulations. Aurora is the supplier to big
supermarket chains like Safeway, Wal-Mart, and Costco.

(2) In January 2007 The Cornucopia Institute reported that the retailer giant Wal-Mart was mislabeling certain products organic. The product packaging says "all natural," but Wal-Mart added the word organic to its price labels.

(3) August 2008. The USDA announced that 15 of its accredited certifying agencies had been placed on probation due to various violations of the NOP organic standards,
according to AlterNet. The violations included several certifying agencies from outside the US and included agencies in China, a country which has recently been
implicated in toxic contaminations, including lead to melamine. One product concerned an organically certified ginger which contained a non-allowable pesticide called aldicarb. The ginger, sold under the 365 label at Whole Foods Market, contained a level of aldicarb not even permissible for conventional ginger, let alone organics. Aldicard causes nausea, headaches and blurred vision even at low concentrations.

(4) April 2009: The Cornucopia Institute urged organic food consumers to petition to the NOSB for the removal of non-organic soy lecithin from the National List. The
Institute claims organic lecithin is now commercially available.

(5) June 2009: A federal judge in St. Louis dismissed class action suits filed by consumers against Aurora Dairy for organic milk fraud.

Additionally the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances has become a minefield!

To be certified "organic", a product must contain 95% organic ingredients or materials during its production. The other 5% should be on the list of allowable synthetic substances. A National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances was prepared in 2002, but has since been amended because food producers can file a petition to include substances that are not on the original list but which they
think are essential in their production. In June 2007, a final amended National List was issued with the number of allowable substances increasing from 77 to 245, according to the LA Times. Subsequently, the advocacy group Organic Consumers Association expressed objections to the inclusion of some of the new products allowed, especially the food colorings.

And even organic labeling, itself, has recently come under fire due to the above mentioned scandals and controversies involving the NOP. Advocacy groups have put
forward the following objections.

(1) Lax national standards. This has created a certification procedure that is unreliable, especially those occurring abroad and to add insult to injury the
original Organic Act's mandate for pesticide testing has been declared optional.

(2) Loophole in the Act. The ability to petition for amendments to the National List are being viewed by many as a big loophole resulting in food producers using the
process to their advantage. The original goal was to shrink rather than expand the list. So far, only one substance has been removed whereas more than 60 have been added.

(3) Consumers are not getting what they are paying for. For paying extra, consumers expect food that is free from pesticides and chemicals. If the national organic standards were to be lowered, consumers are actually being "ripped off."

(4) Watered down. Many believe that with the participation of corporate giants in the organic food market, the organic principle has been seriously "watered down". They put this down to big companies' strong lobbying power, forcing NOP to make concessions and lower national organic standards to accommodate them.

(5) Greenwashing. Some groups even go as far as accusing the NOP of greenwashing, that the organic seal is just a marketing ploy. Some specific examples of greenwashing activities include importing organic powdered milk from New Zealand and keeping a larger number of organic cows in a smaller space.

Consumer groups and some organic pioneers say they are concerned that the 'corporate alliance' movement - a response to the practices of corporate food production that
promotes a natural chemical-free approach to farming - will eventually create a watered down organic food industry unless firm standards are maintained by the NOP, which is unlikely, in view of its past performance.

Other groups feel that conflicts of interest may arise between conventional and organic food production. Organic production used to be a niche market for small organic farmers. As organic production goes mainstream, these small farmers would be out competed and driven out of business.

As people become more and more health and socially conscious, the demand for organic products is increasing. However, as economists point out, "as mainstream consumers
are growing hungry for untainted food that also nourishes their social conscience, it is getting harder and harder to find organic ingredients."

For the purists, however, the philosophy also requires farmers to treat their people and livestock with respect and, ideally, to sell small batches of what they produce locally so as to avoid burning fossil fuels to transport them.

Economic principles, however, do not coincide with purist organic philosophy. The whole supply chain of organic food production is becoming more complicated as the market grows rapidly. The producers are forced to take short cuts in order to stay competitive.

In the US, for example, there aren't enough organic cows to produce organic milk. Even if there were enough cows, there aren't enough grains to feed them. And it is no longer possible to feed cows with raw grass to obtain raw grass-fed milk unless the farmer applies fertilizers to his pasture to make the grass grow faster. Some companies are forced to look offshore for organic ingredients, thereby violating several organic principles, not necessarily in the production process, but in terms of low labor costs and high transport costs.

The organic food industry has clearly outgrown the original regulations meant to protect it and its consumers. And the increased demand for organic food may actually be its own undoing. How 'organic is organic food' is even more important now than in the past!

Guest Article by Katt Mollar

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