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Myth: Purchasing Certified Organic foods is the best, healthiest, or most ethical option

Will you get what you think you're paying for when you purchase 'Certified Orgranic'?

TRUTH:  First of all – people used to associate the term ‘organic’ with small, environmentally conscious farmers.  Now, organic brands are popping up everywhere – including in companies like General Mills and Kraft.  Obviously, they’re not interested in sustainable agriculture so much as they are making a profit.  They’re the major players in the mutli-billion dollar food industry so these are companies that have money to burn on expensive certifications.

Certified organic means that an item is grown and processed according to strict standards and verified by the government, which means that they also charge for the initial certification and for all annual visits.  The cost of the annual fee can be as much as $2,000!  For small farmers who have very little income and who rely on farmers markets or CSA programs to sell their product have no need for such a costly seal of approval.

Then there’s the other component – the “strict standards”.  If you’re familiar with the work of Michael Pollan or Joel Salatin, you probably know the limitations of these so-called standards.  While the fruits and vegetables grown are sprayed with fewer pesticides, animals raised “organically” may not be what you think. 

For instance, a chicken can be said to be organic if it consumes organic feed.  What you may not know: that chicken may live in uncomfortable confinement, rarely seeing the light of day (without clean air and sunshine), without ever being fed greens and slaughtered by electrocution (which is not a dignified way to go).  Now, you may not care about a chicken having a dignified death, but I care because I don’t want feces covering my meat during slaughter.  Actually, I don’t want my meat touching feces period.   

BOTTOM LINE:  I bet you’ll find that your local farmer is willing to fully disclose his or her farming practices with you.  If you’re interested in finding organic produce (and animals raised ethically) but your local farmer isn’t certified, ask more questions and do your research. 

Pay attention to other factors too, by getting to know your farmer and your food.  I’m a huge fan of crop rotation, biological pest control, and green practices (organic farming) but there’s no single term, like ‘certified organic’ that will give you a complete, big picture perspective.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

  1. Huffington Post – While I wouldn’t normally cite the Huffington Post, this is an interesting take from one non-organic farmer.
  2. New York Times article: What does ‘Organic’ really mean?

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