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The Real Organic Project: Disgusted With the USDA, Farmers Make Their Own Organic Label
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
By Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
You've probably heard the buzz around collagen supplements and your skin by now. But is the hype really that promising? After all, research has pointed to both the benefits and downsides of collagen supplements — and for many beauty-conscious folk, collagen isn't vegan.
By Marlene Cimons
Neil Pederson's introduction to tree rings came from a "sweet and kindly" college instructor, who nevertheless was "one of the most boring professors I'd ever experienced," Pederson said. "I swore tree rings off then and there." But they kept coming back to haunt him.
By Daisy Brickhill
Each morning, men living in fishing communities along Ghana's coastline push off in search of the day's catch. But when the boats come back to shore, it's the women who take over.
By Sam Nickerson
Links between excess sugar in your diet and disease have been well-documented, but new research by Harvard's School of Public Health might make you even more wary of that next soda: it could increase your risk of an early death.
The study, published this week in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation, found that drinking one or two sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) each day — like sodas or sports drinks — increases risk of an early death by 14 percent.
Tyson Foods Recalls Nearly 70,000 Pounds of Chicken Strips After Customers Find ‘Fragments of Metal’
Tyson Foods is recalling approximately 69,093 pounds of frozen chicken strips because they may have been contaminated with pieces of metal, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced Thursday.
The affected products were fully-cooked "Buffalo Style" and "Crispy" chicken strips with a "use by" date of Nov. 30, 2019 and an establishment number of "P-7221" on the back of the package.
"FSIS is concerned that some product may be in consumers' freezers," the recall notice said. "Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase."
Environmental exposure to pesticides, both before birth and during the first year of life, has been linked to an increased risk of developing autism spectrum disorder, according to the largest epidemiological study to date on the connection.
The study, published Wednesday in BMJ, found that pregnant women who lived within 2,000 meters (approximately 1.2 miles) of a highly-sprayed agricultural area in California had children who were 10 to 16 percent more likely to develop autism and 30 percent more likely to develop severe autism that impacted their intellectual ability. If the children were exposed to pesticides during their first year of life, the risk they would develop autism went up to 50 percent.