Saturday, September 17, 2011

Fresh, Natural, Organic: Can We Talk?

How today's food talk gets co-opted in the interest of profit is getting very clear to me.

Ever since the USDA took over the role of setting and sticking to standards for organic, "certified organic" has about lost all meaning.

For example, in 2002, shortly after USDA announced its labeling policy, controversy stormed over an accredited USDA-certifier allowed Georgia chicken producer, Fieldale Chickens, which was allowed to label its products "organic" while only having to use ten percent organic feed instead of 100 percent required by the NOP under USDA’s guidelines. Fieldale spent tens of thousands of dollars to hire a prime time Washington lobbyist to help change organic standards at USDA. And with the help of the Georgia delegation in Congress, they were successful.

"Organic eggs" conjures up the vision of contented hens pecking away at fresh grass, insects and worms. Instead, undercover investigations revealed that industry-certified "organic farms" house hundreds of thousands of chickens that literally sit on top of each other in crowded cages. While chickens are supposed to spend time outdoors in order for eggs to be labeled as "organic," Cornucopia Institute found that industrial-scale producers often cheat the system. "Many of these operators are gaming the system by providing minute enclosed porches, with roofs and concrete or wood flooring, and calling these structures 'the outdoors.'

Now comes the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, a newly formed alliance currently representing more than 50 of the top farmer- and rancher-led organizations and agricultural partners.

According to its press release, the alliance "is committed to working together to continuously improve how we raise food that provides healthy choices for people everywhere. We are an industry that has always looked at how to do things better, including how we listen to and answer Americans’ questions."

Press release? Uh oh. Food Politics blows the whistle.
What is this all about?

I am grateful to Nancy Huehnergarth of the New York State Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Alliance for her explanation, “Let the Big Ag reframing begin.”  She points out that this is a professional marketing campaign Zocal√≥ Group (Ketchum Public Relations) and that...

any alliance that starts out with a $30 million budget means business and will be a force to be reckoned with. The USFRA’s goal, obviously, is to begin to reframe the debate about food production and agriculture in this country — a debate that up until now has been dominated by food and agricultural reformers.

Pay close attention to what this group says to divert attention from what Nancy summarizes as the “deplorable conditions, unnecessary subsidies and unsafe/unhealthy practices that have, sadly, become mainstream in our food and agricultural system.”
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