Writing for the New York Times, Elisabeth Rosenthal argues that the organic labeled food Americans are buying is “increasingly removed from the traditional organic ideal: produce that is not only free of chemicals and pesticides but also grown locally on small farms in a way that protects the environment.”
For example, Rosenthal claims the explosive growth of US commercial cultivation of organic tomatoes is depleting the water table, with some wells even running dry this year, preventing small subsistence farmers from growing crops.
And because of the energy-intensive global distribution chain — aka “Free Trade”, a euphemism for neoliberalism — the organic tomatoes end up in Dubai, and United Arab Emirates, “producing significant emissions that contribute to global warming.”
Enjoying their busiest season until spring, farms in Mexico to Chile to Argentina are growing organic food to satisfy demand in the United States market.
Rosenthal points out that the original organic ideal was to eat only local, seasonal produce, but shoppers who buy their organics at supermarkets, from Whole Foods to Walmart, expect to find inexpensive tomatoes in December, and the only way that can be accomplished is through imports, because few areas in the United States can farm organic produce in the winter without resorting to energy-guzzling hothouses.
On the other hand, because of forced global free trade, many organically grown US crops from California, Florida, and similar warmer areas are exported to countries half way around the world instead of being offered to US consumers, forcing the US to rely on imports; trapping organic crop growers in an inept, cumbersome global merry-go-round.
“People are now buying from a global commodity market, and they have to be skeptical even when the label says ‘organic’ — that doesn’t tell people all they need to know,” said Frederick L. Kirschenmann, a distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.
Kirschenmann says some large farms that have qualified as organic employed environmentally damaging practices, like planting only one crop, which is bad for soil health, or overtaxing local freshwater supplies.
Michael Bomford, a scientist at Kentucky State University who specializes in sustainable agriculture, warns that intense organic agriculture has put stress on aquifers in California.
The traditional organic ideal Rosenthal warns we are departing from could be easily embraced by decentralizing the corporate food distribution model. Wherever organic food is grown in the US should be sold locally, or as close as possible to the farm crops were grown on, instead of being shipped to Dubai via the forced global commodity market.
Workers at some organic farms are instructed to cull tomatoes that do not meet “the uniform shape, size and cosmetic requirement of clients like Whole Foods,” and only those “seconds” are sold locally.
Outside The Corporate Structure
Traditional organic ideals are being systematically destroyed by industrial agriculture and food processing corporations.
Writer Stoneleigh brilliantly illustrates this in “The Storm Surge of Decentralization”, an article posted on the popular financial blog The Automatic Earth:
“If groups of people are allowed to assert their independence by opting out of the corporate food machine, then they are less subject to external control, as well as ceasing to be profit providers. Organic agriculture therefore faces substantial regulatory barriers, and, increasingly, extreme over-reactions by central authorities.”
In other words, the corporations that dominate industrial farming and food processing and distribution seek to criminalize any and all attempts at becoming independent.
Simply put, writes Stoneleigh, it is getting more and more difficult to operate outside of the corporate structure, particularly in relation to food. “As Joel Salatin observed in a classic article on the subject of organic farming – Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal.”
Stoneleigh continues: “That means it is also getting more and more difficult in some places to purchase healthy food, as opposed to industrial food-like substances genetically-modified, tainted with all manner of chemicals, stuffed with addictive fillers such as high-fructose corn syrup, and vastly over-processed. The option to eat simple, wholesome, unprocessed, unadulterated, nutritious food is being whittled away, ironically on health grounds, just as demand for real food is skyrocketing.”
Taxing Home Gardens
Stoneleigh warns direct taxation of home-produced food is already being discussed in political circles. “States are indeed desperate for revenue, and the connections politicians have with large corporations gives them a direct incentive to protect the profit margins of those who feather their nests:
“I heard a state legislator today on the radio talking about taxing home gardens that grow vegetables and other produce. This state is in serious economic trouble and they are looking at every possible source of revenue. The legislator stated that many home gardeners sell their produce at flea markets and do not pay any sales tax, that the produce grown even if not sold amounts to income and should be taxed.”
Stoneleigh points out that Britain has already contemplated taxing gardens, not yet for the vegetables they produce, but simply for the property tax revenue stream government could extract for any distinguishable positive feature of a property.
Monsanto has effectively monopolized the seed market with a series of acquisitions. Monsanto purchased the Dutch breeding and seed company, De Ruiter Seeds, as well as Seminis, making Monsanto the largest seed company on Earth, controlling 85 percent of the total market.
Stoneleigh notes seed saving from year to year, and seed banking, are well on the way to being criminalized for the sake of protecting profit margins:
“But now the effort is to take over the whole game, going after even these small sources of biodiversity – by simply defining seeds as food and then all farmers’ affordable mechanisms for harvesting (collecting), sorting (seed cleaning) and storing (seed banking or saving) as too dirty to be safe for food.
“Set the standard for ‘food safety’ and certification high enough that no one can afford it and punish anyone who tries to save seed in ways that have worked fine for thousands of years, with a million dollar a day fine and/or ten years in prison, and presto, you have just criminalized seed banking.
“The penalties are tremendous, the better to protect us from nothing dangerous whatsoever, but to make monopoly over seed absolutely absolute.
“One is left with control over farmers, an end to seed exchanges, an end to organic seed companies, an end to university programs developing nice normal hybrids, and an end to democracy – reducing us to abject dependence on corporations for food and gratitude even for genetically engineered food and at any price.”
EU seed control regulations are also marginalizing farmer control, making it potentially more expensive to protect biodiversity.
“Small is Beautiful”
The most effective way to maintain and control the quality of our food supply is to grow and consume food locally. Growing our own food, or buying organic food at a local Farmer’s Market helps to ensure that our food is free of chemicals and pesticides, and also grown in a way that protects the environment.
Committing to consuming food locally grown may mean doing without inexpensive tomatoes in December, and certain out of season produce, but the initial sacrifice weakens corporate attempts to control our food supply and their efforts to strip consumers of independence.
Downsizing and local community involvement empowers the individual: ideals British economist E. F. Schumacher emphasized in his book “Small Is Beautiful” — Schumacher opposed neo-classical economics, and proposed the idea of “smallness within bigness”: a specific form of decentralization.