“Real Organic” Label Bites Back at Industrial Agriculture

When you think of organic food, you probably imagine a bucolic farm with happy cows out in the pasture and crops growing lush and healthy in fields free of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals.

There’s a reason for that image: It was the original intent of the organic movement, which aimed to reclaim farming and preserve soil integrity. Unfortunately, the value of the organic label — now regulated by the USDA  — has been undermined in recent years by the rise of what some refer to as “industrial organic.”

Now, “organic” includes confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), hydroponics and crops grown in industrial settings that don’t adhere to the spirit of the label. Backed by ferocious marketing, organic is big business, with consumers paying a premium for products labeled “organic.” Following the money, numerous major agriculture firms have entered the organic business, and small farms are getting fed up.

It’s not just the industrialization of organic food that’s worrying some food producers. They’re also concerned about changes they see at the Department of Agriculture, fearing that the protections they’ve fought for will erode. They argue that “USDA organic” is losing its meaning, and creating a maze of paperwork and finicky requirements that benefit big corporations, but present challenges for small farms.

And with big corporations entering the fray, organic certifications face some major changes. Companies are lobbying to increase yields and save money, not necessarily to protect natural resources or be kind to farm animals.

So small-scale farmers are proposing a solution, in the form of the Real Organic Project.

They’d like to get together as a group to develop farmer-driven recommendations for standards and practices that better reflect organic ideals. That includes better animal welfare protections, as well as the elimination of hydroponics and other steps to protect the integrity of the label.

Through a series of…

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