Book Review: Organic


Have you ever bought a product that was labeled “Organic” and wondered whether it really was organic? This book is the story of a University of Oregon professor who bought a can of “organic” black beans labeled as grown in Bolivia and a bag of organic walnuts labeled as grown in Kazakhstan, and his attempt to discover whether they were in fact “organic”.

It’s an interesting study into the various agencies that certify products as being organic, and the governmental organizations that set standards for what is considered organic. You get an idea of what he finds just by looking at the chapter titles, such as “Traitor Joes”, “We Don’t Know Beans About Our Beans”, etc.

Reading the book reinforced what I suspected: some countries are much more stringent than others in enforcing regulations aimed at ensuring that “organic” products are grown without pesticides and herbicides. Likewise for the quality of the efforts of the various certifying agencies and their transparency (or lack of it). I’m going to be far more suspicious of “organic” products grown outside of the United States.

The most interesting idea in the book was one that I thought should be given greater emphasis. Currently organic farmers have to pay a certifying agency in order to use a symbol such as the “USDA Organic” logo. So in addition to the higher costs and lower yields from not using pesticides and herbicides, there’s a potential conflict of interest when you have to pay the folks who inspect you. If, as many of us believe, organic products are healthier for you than so-called “conventional” ones, why not have non-organic farmers pay a small tax which would be used to fund the organic certification process? Better yet, require “conventional” products to bear a small skull and crossbones label to remind consumers how the products were grown?


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