Organic needs ‘gold standard’

Standards lacking to certify that the produce we buy has been raised organically.

I recently read an article by the other Will Allen, Vermont organic farmer, anthropology PhD, ex-Marine. Not the Milwaukee former professional athlete known as the godfather of urban agriculture.

This other Will Allen, with two collaborators, has written Local and Organic, the Gold Standard, in which they put to rest arguments about which is better.

The answer is ‘buyer beware’, because neither label is satisfactory on its own.

The other day, I went into the produce department of our local mammoth supermarket and picked up a couple of organic bell peppers.

When I got them home, I read the labels, which said, ‘product of Belgium’. Belgium! That’s thousands of kilometres away and slightly smaller than Vancouver Island.

When I think of the energy spent to move those capsicums here and the magnificent specimens for sale from local growers, I get really mad.

Mad at globalized food transporters, corporations that buy produce from ridiculous distances, mad at our senior governments busy enabling trade so expensive in real costs, mad at crazy economics, but especially mad at our city, town and village municipal authorities that have not supported year-round, covered marketplaces for local growers to sell at.

Let’s take back the bell pepper market from the Belgians. Local-friendly city councils are where to start.

Despite idiotic distances, I’d still buy certified organic Belgian peppers before I’d buy local ones without a credible guarantee of being toxin-free.

As Allen et al. point out, “Chemically grown foods produced locally may be cheaper than organic and may aid the local economy, but they pollute the ground water, kill the soil food web, decrease the soil’s ability to sequester climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases, broadcast pesticides into the air, poison farmworkers, and incrementally poison consumers with toxic residues on their foods. ‘Local’ pesticides, GMOs, and chemical fertilizers are just as poisonous as those used in California, Mexico, Chile, or China.”

The buyer beware part of local is the lack of standards to certify that the produce we buy has been raised organically.

We might never agree on the meaning of ‘organic’, but at least we know that specified standards are expected.

Fraud is always an issue, whether it’s the work socks Al bought that looked like real yarn, but disintegrated after a few wearings, or menu fraud at a restaurant that claims to be serving local food when maybe the only local ingredient is a sprinkling of parsley.

This is a municipal election year. If we want to make life easier for our local and organic growers, we could put the issue on the local political agenda by voting for candidates who support improved conditions for local growers, and initiatives like local food councils to advise elected officials.

Of course, I wouldn’t vote for someone who says he or she will support local/organic, but doesn’t have a solid platform with other sensible planks to hold it together. It’s ‘buyer beware’ at election time, too.

Marjorie Stewart is board chairwoman of the Foodshare Society and president of the multi-stakeholder co-op, Heritage Foodservice. She can be reached at marjorieandal