Quantcast

The Real Organic Project: Disgusted With the USDA, Farmers Make Their Own Organic Label

Food
iStock

By Dan Nosowitz

Worth billions of dollars, the organic label is the only federally regulated food label that conveys any information about how that food was produced. Certified organic is the fastest-growing food segment—and the distinction can be profitable for farmers (and also costly and difficult to implement)—but that doesn't mean everyone's happy with it. A series of scandals and a lack of faith in the current iteration of the USDA, which oversees the organic program, has led a group of pioneering organic farmers to create their own label: the Real Organic Project.


In the past few years, the rules surrounding organic farming have taken a turn not to the liking of the sustainability-focused small-scale farmers who pushed the movement into being with the 1990 Farm Bill. For one, the USDA declared that soil-free farming methods can snag the coveted label despite objections from farmers who consider the Earth a fundamental component of organic farming. And more recently, the USDA torpedoed a previously-approved law that would have required basic animal welfare standards for organic livestock.

"I got involved when I started seeing a lot of hydroponic tomatoes certified as organic showing up in the market, about five years ago," said Dave Chapman, a longtime organic farmer who runs Long Wind Farm, in Vermont. "We made a really good faith effort to reform the organic program, but we realized [certification of hydroponics] was not the only egregious failure—the NOP [National Organic Program] was very weak on animal welfare, too."

In a post announcing the Real Organic Project, the group described their feelings this way:

For the many people who have spent years working hard to build the integrity of the NOP, this is a dismal moment. We have lost the helm, and the New Organic will not have much to do with the ideals of such pioneers as Albert Howard and Eve Balfour. It will have to do with money. Money will decide what is called "certified organic" and what isn't.

The Real Organic Project will include an additional label on top of the USDA's certified organic label that indicates a project was farmed according to the standards of the Real Organic Project. According to the post: "Starting a new label is not a small task, but we can no longer find an alternative." The group behind the Real Organic Project is made up of a large collection of farmers and academics from around the country. The label, said Chapman, who is the group's lead spokesman, "is an attempt to create an add-on label to USDA Organic that will have more transparency and integrity in terms of honoring the traditional values of organic farming." The group has yet to iron out the label's exact criteria, but Chapman mentioned that hydroponic growing and large-scale CAFO-type farms would be disqualified.

Starting a new food label is lot of work indeed. Who will audit its use? What will a farmer pay for an audit? How often? What will the label look like and what will the certification be called? The Real Organic Project's goal is to address these (and the many other) questions, and complete a pilot program of the new label by the end of 2018.

The Real Organic Program is also running another program, the Just Ask campaign, that's focused on consumer education—a fundamental problem for food labels. The Just Ask campaign will try to get regular customers more engaged on exactly where their food is coming from: the goal is to have customers asking markets and stores whether their organic berries and tomatoes are grown in soil, or whether they come from enormous hydroponic operations run by companies like Driscoll's and Wholesum Harvest. "I think if 50 people walked into every store in America and asked that, we would win overnight," said Chapman. That is, he acknowledges, a very optimistic outcome, but it aligns with the project's goal of adding transparency and attempting to value the things many of the original organic pioneers wanted.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Scanning electron micrograph of Yersinia pestis, which causes bubonic plague, on proventricular spines of a Xenopsylla cheopis flea. NIAID / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

A middle-aged married couple in China was diagnosed with pneumonic plague, a highly infectious disease similar to bubonic plague, which ravaged Europe in the middle ages, as CNN reported.

Read More Show Less
Milk made from almonds, oats and coconut are among the healthiest alternatives to cow's milk. triocean / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Dairy aisles have exploded with milk and milk alternative options over the past few years, and choosing the healthiest milk isn't just about the fat content.

Whether you're looking beyond cow's milk for health reasons or dietary preferences or simply want to experiment with different options, you may wonder which type of milk is healthiest for you.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Greta Thunberg stands aboard the catamaran La Vagabonde as she sets sail to Europe in Hampton, Virginia, on Nov. 13. NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP via Getty Images

Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist whose weekly school strikes have spurred global demonstrations, has cut short her tour of the Americas and set sail for Europe to attend COP25 in Madrid next month, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
The Lake Delhi Dam in Iowa failed in 2010. VCU Capital News Service / Josh deBerge / FEMA

At least 1,688 dams across the U.S. are in such a hazardous condition that, if they fail, could force life-threatening floods on nearby homes, businesses, infrastructure or entire communities, according to an in-depth analysis of public records conducted by the the Associated Press.

Read More Show Less

By Sabrina Kessler

Far-reaching allegations about how a climate-sinning American multinational could shamelessly lie to the public about its wrongdoing mobilized a small group of New York students on a cold November morning. They stood in front of New York's Supreme Court last week to follow the unprecedented lawsuit against ExxonMobil.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

By Alex Robinson

Leah Garcés used to hate poultry farmers.

The animal rights activist, who opposes factory farming, had an adversarial relationship with chicken farmers until around five years ago, when she sat down to listen to one. She met a poultry farmer called Craig Watts in rural North Carolina and learned that the problems stemming from factory farming extended beyond animal cruelty.

Read More Show Less
People navigate snow-covered sidewalks in the Humboldt Park neighborhood on Nov. 11 in Chicago. Scott Olson / Getty Images

Temperatures plunged rapidly across the U.S. this week and around 70 percent of the population is expected to experience temperatures around freezing Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
A general view of the flooded St. Mark's Square after an exceptional overnight "Alta Acqua" high tide water level, on Nov. 13 in Venice. MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP / Getty Images

Two people have died as Venice has been inundated by the worst flooding it has seen in more than 50 years, The Guardian reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less