Are Organic Products At Risk?

Breanna Giovanniello & Grace Dennis, Class of 2016 & 2015

The giants of the food industry such as PepsiCo, General Mills and Kraft have recently devoured most of the United States’ organic food companies. The organic food market is rapidly growing, hence its appeal to the larger agri-food corporations. The National Organics Standards Board is the entity in charge of deciding what constitutes an organic product. What was only recently unveiled was that this board is heavily comprised of representatives of existing food conglomerates such as General Mills, Campbell’s Soup, Organic Valley, Whole Foods Market and Earthbound Farms. The addition of Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to the list of nonorganic ingredients that can be used in products labeled “organic” led to the release of a paper called “The Organic Watergate.” This paper identifies corporate influence in the USDA’s National Organic Program. Michael J. Potter, the founder of major organic foods producer, Eden Foods, is furious about the decrease in organic standards. 

“The board is stacked,” Mr. Potter said in an interview with the New York Times, “Either they don’t have a clue, or their interest in making money is more important than their interest in maintaining the integrity of organics.”

Organic foods are not only healthier for you, but they are also healthier for the environment. Conventional farming methods are harsh on the environment due to their severe dependence on chemicals. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides used on crops affect the food we consume, soil quality, water purity, biodiversity, health of farm workers and the survival of family farms. Organic farming is often wrongly described as farming without the use of pesticides however the term is much more broad than that. If organic foods are being contaminated with non-organic products as a result of big corporations tainting the guidelines of “organic,” then what are we to do?

Firstly, we should recognize that big food companies should have no role in setting the standards for organic food, let alone the powerful role they currently occupy. We should protest the involvement of these corporations in defining the term “organic” not only to protect ourselves by ensuring the food we eat is healthy, but also to protect our environment from further unnecessary pollution by harmful pesticides and chemicals. More importantly, we should support our local businesses by purchasing our organic products directly from the producers we know and trust. The best thing we can do is to ask questions to ensure that the food you eat is the food you think it is. Go to the Hamilton Farmers’ Market to support your local farmers and talk to them about their apples, cheese, syrup, jams, etc. “Organic” may be tainted with corporate interest, but it is still a step above conventional farming methods so we recommend continuing to purchase organic foods – just pay attention to labels.