raisin' cane w/ the big O

M McGuire Michael.McGuire at uvi.edu
Fri Dec 14 08:56:22 EST 2001

I think Mr. Gee's commonts on the use of the term 'organic' and 
'pesticide-free' etc. are right on the money.  Also, I think before we all 
start raising our pitchforks, it would behoove us to look at the exact 
textual source of the assertion that the "USDA now owns the 'O' word for 
all intents and purposes and the rules prohibit anyone claiming they have a 
stronger 'O' standard."  Let's find the actual regulations and circulate 
them on this list so we can see what we are dealing with.  For example, we 
saw with the question of seed certification that, like any product from 
bureaucrats, there is a fair amount of confusion and vagueness in the 
regulations, and the application in practice of specific regulations may be 
far from clear-cut.  This sort of thing happens all the time when moving 
from legislation to regulations to application and interpretation.  It is 
not unknown for the final product to be an unrecognizable distortion of the 
law as originally written or intended, perhaps because special interests 
got their fingers 'round the legislators or the regulators (ideally both, 
from the special interests' perspective), or perhaps due simply to typical 
bureaucratic ineptness or ignorance (not unknown in this country).  In 
fact, if the regulation or its application/interpretation is inconsistent 
with the spirit or letter of the law, this can be challenged, and I believe 
the National Organic Standard regulations specifically delineate procedures 
for calling into question these sorts of issues.  If the regulations or 
even the original legislation are egregiously harmful, other legal 
recourses are also available to people who organize themselves.  Before we 
accuse "them" or the gummit or the Clintons or the Bushes or Santy Claus of 
steam-rolling over the Bill of Rights and purporting to enslave our minds 
and our children, let's get off our laurels and see exactly what we are 
dealing with.  If the regulations are as Draconian as was suggested (and we 
don't know this is really the case until we look at them), what does the 
USDA provide for feedback and modification?.  Even the director of the USDA 
admits the national standards are a first approximation towards ensuring 
that the term 'organic' actually provides useful and accurate information 
to the consumer, which is one of the principles behind the standards to 
begin with, and which is something that most of us will agree (remember 
those peaches) is probably a good idea.

Quite apart the regulatory issues, deciding on what terms to use (ie 
organic vs biointensive vs pesticide free) is a virtual minefield.  As 
someone suggested earlier, all "organic" production is as much based on 
chemicals (organic and inorganic) as the most industrial factory farming is 
based on "organic" chemicals and "natural" processes.  Pesticide- or 
fungicide- or insecticide-free is also rather treacherous, as organic 
farmers can (and do) legitimately apply pesticides and herbicides and 
fungicides with gleeful abandon, so long as they use products in certain 
categories and not those that are restricted.  Poison-free or toxin-free is 
also somewhat slippery, as anything can be toxic if the dose is large 
enough, and if most of the "natural" control products (such as Bt or neem 
or whatever) were not toxic to the pests we are trying to manage, we would 
not be using them.  I prefer Mr. Farr's "biointensive". Though perhaps 
somewhat nebulous, I believe it captures the spirit of farming by working 
with nature, as opposed to against nature, without dumping us into a 
semantic pit.

At 03:42 PM 12/13/01 +0000, you wrote:
>Robert Farr wrote:
> >>I suggest we all use the term, "BioIntensive", with the marketing slug,
> >>"Beyond Organic".
> >>
> >>Any  rules against that???
>and Marcie Rosenzweig replied:
> >Yep, Robert, there is.  .
>The smart marketer's way around this is to define how you
>do things in comparison to the USDA "Organic" standard.
>You do not have to claim a "stronger 'O' standard," if you
>follow higher standards than the USDA.  What you claim is
>that your product "exceeds USDA Organic standards."

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