Would an intelligent person pay a penny more for 'organic' food?
The WaPo, of all places, had a great investigative piece about the continuing sham of "organic" foods, this time focusing on dairy products.
Organic dairies are required to allow the cows to graze daily throughout the growing season – that is, the cows are supposed to be grass-fed, not confined to barns and feedlots. This method is considered more natural and alters the constituents of the cows' milk in ways consumers deem beneficial.
But during visits by The Washington Post to Aurora's High Plains complex across eight days last year, signs of grazing were sparse, at best. Aurora said its animals were out on pasture day and night, but during most Post visits the number of cows seen on pasture numbered only in the hundreds. At no point was any more than 10 percent of the herd out. A high-resolution satellite photo taken in mid-July by Digital Globe, a space imagery vendor, shows a typical situation – only a few hundred on pasture.
In response, Aurora spokeswoman Sonja Tuitele dismissed the Post visits as anomalies and "drive-bys."
"The requirements of the USDA National Organic Program allow for an extremely wide range of grazing practices that comply with the rule," Tuitele said by email.
The milk from Aurora also indicates that its cows may not graze as required by organic rules. Testing conducted for The Post by Virginia Tech scientists shows that on a key indicator of grass-feeding, the Aurora milk matched conventional milk, not organic.
Tuitele dismissed the tests as "isolated."
In the case of milk, consumers pay extra – often double – when the carton says "USDA Organic," in the belief they are getting something different. Organic dairy sales amounted to $6 billion last year in the United States.
Under organic rules, the USDA typically does not inspect farms. Instead, farmers hire their own inspectors from lists of private companies and other organizations licensed by the USDA. An inspector makes an annual visit, arranged days or weeks in advance. Only 5 percent of inspections are expected to be done unannounced.
The organic farmers pick their own inspectors? It sounds like a racket to charge customers more who think they are getting something better with the "organic" label. I think the only real purpose of "organic" foods is to make rich people shopping at Whole Foods feel better about themselves; in other words, the benefit is mostly psychological. There have been similar exposés over the years for other "organic" producers of food, making "organic" food the "global warming" of the fruit and vegetable aisle.
What do you think? Given the very lax oversight, why would anyone pay more for something that claims to be "organic"?
Ed Straker is the senior writer at NewsMachete.com.