Organic this, and organic that; Everything these days seems to be organic.
I believe that in the food industry there are trends in consumerism that are easy to identify. For example, a hot diet starts in a health food store, then the media catches on (books, Oprah, CNN, etc.), next are the knock off diets (that fail), and finally the fast food industry. By the time a diet goes through these motions, the consumer has usually figured out that diets never work forever, only good lifestyle habits do. So, the industry built around the particular diet at hand crashes and searches again for the next “diet” to profit off of.
Problem is, organic food is a lifestyle choice NOT a diet, as many sources would have you believe. Years ago, I felt that organic food would be protected from the issues that face diets because the standards were put in place by the farmers and natural foods industry – not the mass market. I trusted these groups would protect the food quality and keep it in the class of lifestyle. I was wrong! The government stepped in and decided the USDA needed to regulate organic foods to keep the self-regulating natural products industry honest and make sure consumers could not be manipulated. (How’s that for irony?)
The problem was, our industry self regulated because our lives depended on it. We believed in organic food and what it stood for. However, our new regulator, the USDA, did not have this interest; rather they wanted to set a standard that they could maintain. Who taught them about organics? Who taught them to watch out for the mass market that sought profits from the tiny organic food sector that was showing large growth? Yes, the USDA did ask the natural foods industry for their opinion when defining the original standard, but what happened as the years went by? Once organic foods were part of the mass market people changed, rules changed, and the commitment to organics changed. What people were concerned about was now profits instead of quality.
This brings me to my topic of the week. Do you want a Certified Organic produce department or a produce department that ONLY carries organic produce?
Certifying a produce department as Organic is a store’s choice, not a requirement by law. Farmers and food handlers before the store are required to be certified to sell their product as such, but store handlers are not forced to do this. It is an expensive, time consuming process.
Originally I signed on to have Native Sun certified, believing that this is the highest standard and I should let my customers see my commitment to organics. After being certified for 3 years I decided that all certification had done for my customers was raise their prices while adding no additional quality control for a company like Native Sun who already had all of these standards and more in place. This is not to say that Organic Certification at the retail level does not help for chain supermarkets, rather, I think chain supermarkets trying to sell organic food is why the standards where developed in the first place. It insures that stores, who don’t strongly believe in the products they carry, can at least attempt to learn about and protect the integrity of the product.
Organic Certification is an effort to ensure that organic produce is properly handled to avoid cross contamination from pesticides, fungicides, and chemical fertilizers found on conventional produce. There is a strict tracking system to show that each item was bought from organic suppliers and farmers, and when it arrived was not contaminated by its conventional counterpart. Also, that it was washed with organic cleansers and had time to dry before moving to the store floor.
Funny, Native Sun ONLY carries organic produce from certified organic distributors that deal ONLY with organic produce that they bought from certified organic farmers that ONLY grow organic foods. There is no chance of cross contamination because conventional produce is not even an option at our stores!
At Native Sun, we also use bleach to disinfect our knives and cutting boards used for food prep and/or a rinse cycle over 180 degrees to ensure that no bacteria or other pathogens get on our produce. We also use Reverse Osmosis water to rinse our produce and cornstarch-based, biodegradable produce bags. This is the Native Sun standard and we didn’t have to pay thousands of dollars to learn it – we do it every day because we care about our customers and their health.
Any time I have been to store with a Certified Organic produce department I have always found violations due to cross contamination. Organic produce will be displayed beautifully, but stored touching non-organic produce. Customers will pick up then decide not to purchase an organic product and put it down with a like product that is not organic.
Staff and customers do not take organic produce as seriously when it sits alongside conventional. They see organic as a choice rather than the best option. We need to be concerned about synthetic chemicals that are sneaking into our environment and our bodies. Organic is the ONLY option that protects our future!