Recently, I was listening to an interesting segment on The Diane Rehm Show on NPR. The topic was organic food and farmers, and the rise of industrialized organic farming. The guests were discussing the difference between following the laws of organic farming and the “spirit” of organic farming.
The point was that the “organic” labels on food do not necessarily mean the same thing. While there are strict standards that organic farms have to undergo in order to become certified organic, the organic label alone does not guarantee that the food was produced sustainably, or that, in the case of dairy and egg products, that the animals were treated humanely and led the happy “farm” life that the organic labels want you to picture when purchasing their product.
Basically, all organic products are not produced equally. With the increase in demand for organic products, some large companies who produce organic products have moved from the small family farm model that most of us picture when we think of organic, to large industrial scale productions, which we are more likely to picture when thinking about conventionally raised products.
So, what is a concerned consumer to do when purchasing organic products?
On the one hand, it’s really frustrating, because there are obviously so many things to think about, and hard choices to make already, when walking the aisles of your local grocery store. Grabbing an item labeled organic off the shelf seems like an easy answer. Now, having to think about what the organic on that label means is just adding one more thing to think/worry about.
But, there are some simple and easy ways to be sure the farms behind products you are purchasing from are embodying the true spirit, and not just the laws, of organic farming.
Buy directly from the farm.
When you purchase directly from a farm, you can ask the farmer himself, or herself, about their farming practices. You may even be able to visit the farm and see the animals and the conditions they are raised in. You’ve heard the saying, seeing is believe, and there’s no better way to know the products you are purchasing are being raised/grown the way you want them to then to see it for yourself.
Buy from companies that support family farms and farm co-operatives.
A few of the bigger organic name brands that you see on the store shelves use a network of family farms and farm co-operatives to produce their organic products. Even though these companies are producing larger quantities of organic food products, they are not sacrificing quality to do so. They are supporting the smaller organic family farms and encouraging them to continue farming in a sustainable, humane, and healthy way.
Avoid buying from companies that are known to use industrialized farming methods.
There are also a few bigger organic companies that are known to use large-scale industrialized organic farming. By avoiding purchasing products from those companies you are lessening the demand for their products, and showing, in some small way, that you do not support their industrialized organic farming practices.
To help you with these decisions, The Cornucopia Institute has put together a rating system of organic farms and companies based on the best organic farm practices and ethics.
The important thing to remember is that our dollars drive demand and sales. In essence, with every organic product or food item we buy, we vote with our dollars, telling companies that their farming practices are just as important to us as the USDA Organic symbol on the label of those items.
Does the way organic products are produced matter to you when buying organic? Did you know there was more to think about than just the organic label itself?
Photo Credit: The Cornucopia Institute
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