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My local grocery store offers only “organic” produce.  Nice, right?  Yeah, except that they charge three times more for anything with that little label that says “organic.”  And guess what, an organic label by no means ensures the item is truly organically farmed.  With all the loopholes we expect of traditional tax law and political affairs, “organic” is a loose term indeed. 

First off, the grocery store is not legally bound to investigate whether or not an item they receive for sale is labeled in accordance with federal law.  (No retail establishments are.  Including restaurants.)  I understand it could be an expensive and time-consuming effort but doing nothing seems almost … negligent.  I would think one random test sample each month, or even quarterly, of the major suppliers’ produce would not be too taxing and may even qualify for some kind of government grant. 

But no, the responsibility falls to the supplier.  Of course the supplier and also the store (or eatery) are never supposed to “knowingly” alter labeling or re-label items or otherwise mislead consumers, but that’s also a rather gray legal area.  It’s quite easy for a bin of regular bell peppers to “spill over” into the organic bin at the store, or for a crate to be mis-labeled in shipping, or even for an entire shipment to go awry without anyone noticing.  Retail work can be chaotic even when honestly attempting to maintain accuracy; with a plethora of opportunity, a bit of “see no evil, speak no evil” could do wonders for a bottom line.  In addition, small suppliers do not have to conform to federal standards and can presumably label their products as they please since they are not regulated.  Larger suppliers – and the middle men – rely on the claims of the original producer.  (See “Washing of the Hands,” Article 62, Passages 11 – 16, of the Criminally Legal Handbook.)  

So we’re all the way back to the farmer now, and trusting his operation to participate fully and accurately maintain all the federal precedents of organic production.  I’m sure a lot of farmers do their very best to accomplish just that.  And I’m sure many don’t.  Even for those attempting “honest” organics, an entire year crop can be affected by one non-organic treatment to adjacent land, or the impossible-to-prevent cross-pollination with non-certified produce (like those genetically modified).  The results of these interactions would, by law, revoke a producer’s ability to label any crop “organic” … except that the USDA has stated that it will exclude such results from the labeling regulations. 

Huh?  There’s a nice breeze and the field upwind gets cropdusted but my field is still “organic” because I didn’t pay for it?  Their mutant potatoes won’t cross-pollinate with mine because you say they shouldn’t?  Way to go, Washington.  You’re absolutely right; regulatory paperwork in a filing cabinet in an airtight office a thousand miles away is 100% effective at blocking those particles from tainting my crop.  Excellent work. 

Moreover, imported produce (which constitues an interestingly large percentage of what we consume) is expected to be correctly labeled before it crosses the border and does not need to be tested prior to hitting the retail market stateside.  That said, imports from European countries worry me a great deal less than say, Columbia.  Not that I have anything against Columbia, but it occurs to me they might be more interested in our business (and their profit) than whether or not what they produce meets our organic standards.

Also, as consumers, we often associate “organic” with “natural” when, legally, nothing could be further from the truth; it may occur naturally but just as likely may not.  Perfectly acceptable “organic” compounds in direct contact with unharvested produce and/or feedstock animals include hydrogen peroxide, copper and ferrous sulfates, ammonium, sodium hypochlorite, calcium polysulfide, and – my personal favorite – “liquid fish products.”  (Whatever that means.)  Some of those are totally, completely, 100% synthetic. 

Because, of course, “organic” doesn’t mean “naturally-occuring organic.”  In fact, by their very definition, some of these compounds exist only as products of human experimentation, so wholly unnatural that nothing remotely comparable to them exists outside the laboratory.  Which makes them unique.  So they remain USDA certified 100% organic.  In one of my favorite quirks of the laws and acts laying these regulations out, hops (the kind they put in beer) are entirely exempt regardless of how they are modified, treated, handled, or marketed. 

Why?  Because hops are like grapes:  their tastes differ based on treatment and location.  This attribute makes them too unique to synthesize and vulnerable to a potential change in taste under different treatment (i.e. “organic” treatment).  According to the USDA, that is enough to exempt them from regulation.  (Grapes, however, are not exempt, though the regulations are somewhat more lenient than for other produce.  Apparently the bouquet of wine is not as delicate as that of beer.  That and … I don’t recall an Anheuser-Busch-sized lobby on behalf of the wine industry.)

So perhaps Columbia could hardly do worse than we do to ourselves already.  After all, a box of any food product can be labeled “organic” – in bold, with neon flashing lights if the producer so desires – if even 70% of the contents conform to USDA standards.  Meaning the other 30% could be … anything.

And my point to all this, oh gentle patient reader, is simply … why bother?  If what the USDA regards as “organic” in no way matches the consumers’ understanding, why even introduce it into the mix?  And with all the fine print involved (which I didn’t even scratch in the writing of this), wouldn’t it be easier to label the non-organically farmed products instead?  And of course, there are no answers, only more questions.  But It seems like just one more confusing tactic to mislead the public.  One more governmental half-truth.  Well here’s a personal opinion, my bloated greedy hopelessly corrupt representatives of Washington…  

Leave my goddamn carrots alone.

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