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Jul 18, 2012 09:17 AM

What does the word "organic" mean to you?

If your response immediately includes the words "silly," "neurotic" or "excuse to be overpriced" please go on to another thread. I am looking for thoughtful responses that are not immediately hostile to the concept of organic.

I read a NY Times article about the politics of what ingredients can be included into foodstuffs and still maintain the label "organic."

So I post to the people who buy organic, or those who would like to buy it if it were more affordable or more available in their area. What does the term mean to you? What do you see as the goal of "organic food?"

Personally, I believe that it espouses a method of growing food that is not dependent on vast amounts of herbicides, pesticides, or chemical-derived fertilizers to ensure continued fertility of the land.

Within meat, it should imply that the meat is grown without hormones or preventative antibiotics, two practices that have evolved as a result of large scale agriculture. I don't think vegetarian eggs are better, since chickens are designed to grub for worms and bugs as part of their diet. On the other hand, I don't think they should be eating food comprised of slaughterhouse meal.

I think mono-cultures tend to foster inherent problems in food production. Greater efficiency also breeds greater ruthlessness in dealing with problems. Perhaps my Pollyanna viewpoint is a holdover from children's books, but I can't help thinking that on a smaller scale farm, cow manure is a fertilizer. On CAFOs, (concentrated animal feeding operations) it is a pollutant.

What are your thoughts? Do you accept the organic label as a be all and end all? Do you think that it is better than nothing? Do you think that the system all went wrong somewhere? I lean towards the latter two.

Disclaimer: I am no expert. I am also no farmer. I favor farmers markets conventional over supermarket organic. If I talk to a farmer about their production methods, I will trust them when they say that they use no pesticides, but don't bother with expensive certification more than I trust that someone with an organic label has been vetted thoroughly and conscientiously by the government on an appropriate basis. I buy "happy meat" when I can afford it, but still sometimes buy supermarket meat too.

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  1. I am on the same page as you. I teeter between how things are, how things need to be, how things should be, etc. I think that change is seriously needed for both health and the planet, but I can see how things came to be the way they are and why the necessary changes will be difficult. This will be a good thread to follow, I hope.

    1. The original comment has been removed
      1. Nothing to add - you've just about covered what I understand by "organic." But I confess I don't care enough about organic to investigate whether what I buy at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods really is organic. I rely on their reputations and take their word for it.

        1. I'd prefer a tiered certification level of organic so that people can choose which definition they want to adhere to rather trying to come up with a single standard of "organic food".

          13 Replies
            1. re: FoodPopulist

              We do sorta have that (i.e. Organic, All-Natural, Grass Fed, and non-gov't certifications like Certified Humane, etc.), but, since the Government has their definitions, and larger companies can help influence the exact definition, they are likely to rule the day.

              If, say, Whole Foods were to attempt to have as much Biodynamic produce and Certified Humane Meat as possible, they would still likely end up with only a small amount of each.

              Personally, I am in favor of having multiple programs, in line with your thinking, but having none of them defined by the government. (Things like state inspections by the USDA or OSHA are a different matter).

              1. re: DougRisk

                I'm thinking more along the lines of different levels, of increasing level of strictness. So, let's say that the strictest level would be called Organic-A and would be the tightest definition of "organic". Then, Organic-B would be a less strict standard that permits some things not permitted in Organic-A, and Organic-C would permit even more things.

                Basically, have shades of organic-ness, instead of an either/or rating.

                1. re: FoodPopulist

                  They basically have something like this. Don't quote me on the actual wording of these things, but, the Federal Government regulates things like:
                  - 100% Organic
                  - Made with Organic Ingredients
                  - Organic
                  - etc.

                  There are various levels of "Organic" according to the Feds.

                  And, that is my point. They already have what you are asking for, but, since it is the gov't, it is not that great a system.

                  Whereas Certified Humane is pretty great. Of course, that is not a government program.

                  1. re: DougRisk

                    I would strongly prefer a government-run labeling program.

                    1. re: FoodPopulist

                      FoodPopulist, I was away for the weekend, but, you did not read what I had said. We DO have a government run labeling program.

                      I understand that you may respond with: "Well, I want a better gov't run program", but, such is life. The Federal Governement, and almost all large centralized programs, are almost doomed to being bought bureaucracies.

                      1. re: DougRisk

                        That's the cynical way of looking at it. Another way is to consider that the USDA and FDA are responsible for the food supply for the entire nation, not merely for small minorities with an extremely narrow view of acceptable food production and labelling practices.

                        1. re: GH1618

                          But our food system does need change/improvement, and history shows that with a bureaucracy it takes noisy people with somewhat extreme views to push through change.

                          1. re: GH1618

                            That's fine.

                            But, I stand by my beliefs when it comes to large centralized bureaucracies. They have proven time and again how effective and efficient they are. Though, I am certainly not interested in making this discussion overly political.

                  2. re: DougRisk

                    As I understand it, the term "All-Natural" means absolutely nothing from a regulatory standpoint.

                    1. re: thinks too much

                      Well, it depends on what you mean. But, the USDA does define what All-Natural means:

                      "According to the USDA, which has defined the term natural only for meat and poultry, products labeled natural or all natural must not contain any artificial flavoring, color ingredients, chemical preservatives, or artificial or synthetic ingredients. Currently, no standards exist for this claim except when used on meat and poultry products. There is no organization behind the claim other than the company manufacturing or marketing the product, and there is no third-party certifier."

                      1. re: DougRisk

                        So not much better than "magically delicious".

                        1. re: ennuisans

                          Right, All-Natural basically means that the animal was not raised in a nuclear reactor.

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