Vol. 10, No. 43

October 24-30, 2002

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The Organic Way and Chesapeake Bay

On Monday, a new label joined the tens of thousands vying for your attention. The green-in-brown circle proclaims that what you’re buying is USDA (that’s U.S. Department of Agriculture) Organic.

It’s a label worth noticing and one long overdue.

This label does more than describe what’s inside the package. It signifies a system that incorporates health and sustainability from farm gate to dinner plate.

To carry this label, your pumpkin, pasta and other edibles — plus some wearables, like cotton — were grown largely without chemicals, pesticides and most fertilizers. Likewise, organic meat was derived from animals that were fed with organically grown grain. That’s what you’re getting at the top of the new three-tier system with a label that reads “100 percent organic.” A second label, reading only “organic,” promises 95 percent purity.

You can also buy food and beverages that “contain organic ingredients,” meaning they’re at least 70 percent organic. That’s the label you’d find on a bottle of wine made from organically grown grapes but treated with sulfites.

What the new label assures us, as consumers, is that we’re buying food that is certifiably as free as possible of weed-killers and insecticides, which are of no value in the human body.

Pesticides are a special problem now that so much of our produce is imported from Mexico and Central America as a result of trade agreements that canceled tariffs on imports from such neighbors. In these countries, farmers routinely spray chemicals so dangerous that they are banned in the United States. And believe it or not, only one percent of imported food shipments is checked for impurities.

Among their threats, these chemicals on our food are blamed for interfering with hormone production. At first, it was widely accepted that pesticides only block estrogen, the female hormone. But now it is believed that they also interfere with androgens, the male hormones, and are blamed in some quarters for declining sperm counts.

At a second level, buying organic makes a difference for the environment. It means that fewer chemicals are leeching from farm fields into the surrounding lands and waters, including Chesapeake Bay.

The organic label exists only because many people worked to achieve it. The Agriculture Department took its sweet time to write the rules (more than 10 years).

The food industry and Big Farming fought the organic labels, just as they are fighting now to prevent labeling of genetically modified food. They want us to have no say over food production, which in recent years has meant intensive agriculture: bigger farms with more chemicals.

The appearance of these labels marks a triumph by organic growers and environmental advocates over huge special interests. The opportunity to have more organic food (albeit at a higher price) is a reward of this success, and the new labels signify that a critical mass has been reached.

The question now is whether people will vote organic with their grocery dollars.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly