To start off, the USDA allows five percent of the ingredients in organic food to be non organic. This is because the USDA recognized that companies may not be able to get their hands on ingredients that are produced organically. The rule for those five percent allowed is that the ingredients must be approved by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and all producers have to constantly look for a new organic substitute for that ingredient so it can be replaced. The most interesting fact about this five percent allowed is the type of ingredients the NOSB has actually allowed to be in organic food. One ingredient is Carrageenan.This is derived from seaweed and is used to thicken food. It’s become notorious for a controversial health record it can cause like inflammation of intestines. Another is Synthetic DHA which is a fatty acid used in dairy products. The reason people don’t like this in organic food is because there is no need to add it to dairy products. Not to mention to get Synthetic DHA, scientists extract a strain of algae using radiation and harsh chemicals. The last ingredient is the casings companies use for sausages and hot dogs. Casings are are made from cow, sheep, or pigs intestines. Organic activists don’t approve of this because the animals used to make the casings can be housed in tight quarters and given antibiotics and growth hormones. Besides those specific ingredients, the others that also get the exemption, are allowed to be used in organic food for five years. However, the USDA recently change that process. The new policy now states a exempt ingredient can stay indefinitely on the approved list unless two-thirds majority of the NOSB voted to remove that ingredient. The USDA can now also re-list exemptions without approval of the NOSB and without the public ‘s discretion. The Cornucopia Institute co director, Mark Kastel, quotes, “The USDA is attempting a ‘power grab ‘ in the interest of big business and in order to expand the exemptions list. Corporate interests, including the industry lobby group the Organic Trade Association have been gaming the system for years with the help of the USDA. What has changed recently, as a result of the NOSB refusing to go along with agribusiness in approving gimmicky synthetics and nutraceuticals in organic food, is that they have now had their minions at the USDA changes the rules in the middle of the game.” This is only the beginning of the fraud that goes along with the USDA organic labels.If the companies get their ingredients approved, they would next strive to get the certified organic label on their products. For companies to be certified organic, the USDA has special teams of certifiers that are to supposed to check on farms and make sure no violations are occurring. Many big companies take advantage of this because of their political and money influence as stated earlier. This allows them to pressure the teams of certifiers to waiver what companies do to produce the food. The issue with that is the certifiers are getting paid by the company they are certifying. Since there is competition among the certifiers, they are lenient on the companies because if they weren ‘t, the companies can find another person to certify them. Another interesting fact is that the certifying going on alleged “farms” has no actual testing happening. Which means farmers or companies can still use synthetic fertilizers or GMO’s in their crops and the certifiers wouldn ‘t even know it. A former farm inspector, Mischa Popoff, quoted, “It’s an honor-based system. There’s no actual testing at the farm, and you’re just reviewing paperwork that says, yes, the farmer avoided pesticides.” The USDA’s National Organic program also has certifiers only evaluating end products of the crops or fruits instead of when they are in the field growing. Popoff commented by saying, “But you need to inspect a farm when the crop is standing. That’s when an inspector can say, ‘wait, that doesn’t look right. Or, your yield is much too high.” The shows another flaw in the USDA system of organic labeling.
If a company manages to becomes certified, they can even do more damage to the organic label. A couple companies that have done this in the past are Big Food and Aurora Organic Dairy. The first company Big Food, responsible for Kraft and Dean Foods, agreed to a USDA policy but it was quickly disregarded it in the future. This policy allowed the company to have seventy-seven non organic ingredients as long as the list shrank as time went on. This never happened and the list grew to two hundred and forty five. The NOSB is also responsible for setting rules on how dairy food is being produced. For example, all companies have to allow outside access to all animals but Big foods hasn’t implemented it. This means their food is labelled organic but their cows are still raised in factories and never have eaten grass.The chickens are raised indoors as well, but two weeks before slaughter they are allowed to go outside. That is, if the chicken even cares to make it to a small opening in a door that barely shows any sign of sunlight or fresh air. A non profit organic organization Cornucopia took aerial photos of several Big Foods plants and it showed plenty of room for the animals to roam freely and eat grass. There was one issue though, there was no animals to be found outside, they were all confined indoors.
The second big fraud to the organic label is Aurora Organic Dairy. The dairy farm had fourteen violations filed against them that violate USDA regulations. Among these violations were failure to allow access to grass for the cows, not allowing enough time for conventional cows to switch to organic milk, not keeping records about how the cows were raised and buying non-organic bedding. The USDA canceled the charges against the company and let them keep their organic label after they agreed to reduce the size of its herd. Once again, organic pacifists, Cornucopia, called out the USDA for not punishing Aurora when government regulators found out the dairy had been participating in consumer fraud by allowing workers in the organic industry to make an alleged “sweetheart deal” between Aurora and the USDA. Mark Kastel, an institute senior farm policy analysts stated, “This giant agribusiness enterprise, with majority ownership by Charlesbank, the investment arm of the Harvard endowment fund, was found to have illegally confined their cattle to feedlots, depriving them of fresh air and healthy grazing conditions as required by law, Aurora was also found to have brought in conventional cattle to their operation instead of milking cows that had been managed organically for their entire lives, this corporation was out and out cheating.” As shown, it was very easy for these two companies to persuade the USDA and NOSB into modifying their policies.
As a result of the surprising ingredients allowed in organic food and companies that commit fraud, the organic label is losing its true meaning. If the organic industry continues grow, more and more companies will want to be invested in it because of the profits they can make. Whether it takes showing a happy cow leaping over field when in reality they are confined indoors and in close quarters, those companies will still be able to label their foods organic. If consumers find the truth behind the labels, they would feel mislead and lied to. To help stop companies from taking over the organic industry, try shopping at local farmer markets instead of big companies like Walmart. This would accurately inform the shopper about their food because they are able to directly talk to the farmer that made the product. Soon enough the label “Certified Organic” might as well be called “Certified Fake” if the big companies continue to abuse their power. Hopefully, more organizations like Cornucopia will help and try to preserve the very important meaning of what it takes for food to be organic.