Thursday, March 08, 2007

VegNews Organics Article

Ages ago I mentioned my new subscription to VegNews, and I received my first issue several weeks ago. So it’s my own fault I’ve failed to delve into reading it until now. The cover issue, about brand name vs private label organics, intrigued me from the start, especially since I’ve been comparing pricing in organic items from several different stores. The article brought to light the fact that many private labels, like Whole Foods’ 365 brand, don’t disclose their sources for product, making it easier for them to change suppliers as cost fluctuates. So there’s no guarantee, in my mind, that quality and taste would be affected by that type of major reorganization. I never thought about the fact that buying from smaller private labels ensures a higher standard of pay for farmers and farm workers, especially local people whose production suffers with the influx of private labels hitting the market now. The VN article suggests shopping at farmer’s markets, which Colorado has during the summer months only, or finding co-ops nearby. I haven’t looked into the co-op thing yet, but I will do some research and see what we have and how far it is.

I glossed over the article’s points about organic dairy being about what the cattle or hens are fed, more than how they’re kept. So they can still be closely penned and have products labeled organic. Hate me if you must, but I will argue that I do feel some animals were created for the purpose of being food. Chickens and cows being among them, in my book. I’m highly in favor of treating animals with respect, and I would never purposely buy from people who mistreat their animals. But caging a chicken in some respect seems like a necessary evil if that’s your means of income. I guess you could have called my childhood chickens, Biddy and Pruitt, free range. They probably would have lasted longer had I protected them from the wild things that eventually carried them off. My point is that I’m not a farmer, so I have to give farmers some credit as experts on how to keep their livestock. Feeding chickens organic stock, expensive as that probably is, seems like a great start to me, so I have to believe in good intentions here. Call me an idealist, a hopeful, whatever. I’m okay with it.

I was surprised to learn about the organic label being so haphazardly applied to foods, however. The VegNews writer brings to light the fact that soybeans can be grown in another country without organic certifications or USDA watchdogs, have chemicals and pesticides introduced after they’re shipped to the U.S. — in the name of customs, I baptize ye — and STILL get an organic label for shelving. Even Whole Foods’ private soy product labels admitted that 95% of their beans were grown on U.S. soil, meaning 5% or so are not. To me, that’s enough to make a difference. What if, for the one product I purchase regularly, the beans are 100% imports? Will slapping the organic label on things justify a high price tag if this is the type of product we can expect? Apparently the label “Eden” has stopped using the USDA signature logo for organics because their standard is so much higher it didn’t apply in “spirit.” That’s a statement I’m not sure how to respond to.

If you don’t subscribe to VegNews but are interested in the progress of organics, please nab a copy of the mag to peruse over coffee at your local Barnes and Noble. It’s worth the special trip and an interesting read.

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