Organic labeling’s number one problem

Sometimes the large scale organic farmer looks like someone trying to practice industrial agriculture with one hand tied behind his back.
~ Michael Pollan

I take that back, there are two big problems with organic labeling, but they’re related, so we’ll just lump them together.

The broader of the two is basically the naturalistic fallacy…that because organic is “natural” it is therefore good. I’ve discussed this before. Furthermore, I’d like to also point out the fact that organic does not mean pesticide, herbicide, or fertlizer free. It merely means that “natural” versions of these are used…and you can overfertilize just as easily with manure as you can with “conventional” fertilizers.

The bigger of the two problems, though, is the false dichotomy that organic labeling perpetuates. The idea that organic is good, and is always good, and that “conventionally-grown” foods aren’t as good or are simply bad.

Since I just touched on the former, I’ll merely add that Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” is a good place to start for a discussion of the latter.

There are multiple ways to grow organic food and multiple ways to grow conventional food. You could have a farm that is organically certified that loses topsoil like no one’s business and overfertilizes, etc, etc, and at the same time, you could also have a “conventional” farm that maintains its topsoil and uses Integrated Pest Management and follows the proper use instructions for their fertilizer. But the latter doesn’t have the “organic” label and thus is considered, at first blush, “bad” as compared to the organic farm. But that’s just an example. Reality is, as always, far more complex.

At best, organic is a small step up in some ways and a small step down in others. It may get people to acknowledge that imperfect fruits and veggies are just as good as the perfect, but it also requires more land in order to grow the same amount of fruits and veggies. It may repurpose manure and reduce the reliance on petroluem, but its PR campaign spreads an irrational fear of chemicals.

At worst, organic is the same shit with a different name. And the shit is literal.

But the reality is probably somewhere in between.


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