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Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010 06:39 pm

Interest in organic food may not be all good

As the eating patterns in America shift towards healthier foods, the demand for natural and organic products is rising. No one wants to support the food industry using unnatural, cheap, and secretive methods to produce our country’s food. So people instead head for the foods that are produced by everyday people, the average ruralites more like them. While this is a magnanimous idea and seems practical, the fact is that the natural/organic food industry is headed down the same dead-end street on which the current food industry got stuck.

Natural/organic foods used to be produced exclusively on family-owned farms by rural farmers. However, with the rise of demand for organic foods, so rise businesses that want to make big bucks off this quickly growing industry. Most see this as a good thing, with more options for healthier foods. While I agree, I also see that the consequences are potentially catastrophic for this nation’s rebounding health crisis.

As the natural foods industry continues to grow, more and more corporate executives force their hands into the growing money pool that the industry is creating. Here lies my concern. It’s because of stingy rich folk like this that our current food industry is in a steep downward spiral caused by cutting corners to maximize profit. It’s only natural to assume that they will do the same with our natural/organic food industry.

That is not to suggest that this method of cheapening products to turn a quick buck hasn’t already started in this budding industry. Certain farms are giving their animals just enough (or less) room to get the label “Free Range” on their packages.

Back when “organic” was less common, the definition was much different. Organizations like Oregon Tilth used strict standards to qualify food items to be “organic.” However, the government caught wind of the organic movement, and, in 2002, the USDA monopolized the organic stamp of approval. Since they were the only organization that could certify an item organic, the government declared a less strict definition. In order to be USDA Certified Organic, items have to be made with only 95 percent organic ingredients. The other 5 percent of ingredients can come from an ever-growing list of non-organic substances, though many of those can be obtained in organic form; i.e. hops, dill weed and elderberry juice.

More big-time natural food supermarkets are showing up around the country. Even Wal-Mart has now started an “organic section” among their produce. Instead of giving Wal-Mart kudos for being environmentally conscious, we need to ask ourselves “Why, Wal-Mart?” One will see that one-track-(money-)minded Wal-Mart is only jumping on the organic bandwagon for more money.

We cannot let corporations ruin yet another food industry with unhealthy practices. We cannot let major corporations cut corners to save money…again. One way to discourage these big business executives is to ignore them. Instead, buy directly from local farms and/or organic providers that support local businesses. This does not include Wal-Mart and the like. It’s hard for Wal-Mart to promote “buying local” when they are a multinational chain.

Another way to maintain your rights to real organic food is to keep tabs on the government. Pester your senators and respective representatives and demand that the USDA’s list of non-organic materials allowed in organic foods be made shorter, not longer.

The still-young movement towards organic, natural and healthier foods has real potential to be great and turn this country’s health around; but it could just as easily become worse, because it’ll leave us with even fewer options for eating healthy and naturally. The choice is up to us.

Clayson Lobb of Winchester is a 19-year-old sophomore living at University of Illinois Springfield.