Organic food is really hot right now. The mainstream grocery stores are carrying organic products; even the USDA is now involved. Many of the organic producers are absolutely giddy regarding these latest developments. Here at Willow Hills, we are not so gleeful. While we are glad of the fact that more and more people are seeking out healthy food, we are not very impressed with foods from the industrial-government complex carrying the “organic” moniker.
Of course, if you haven’t learned by now, whenever the government becomes involved in regulating something, quality goes right out the window. It is replaced with industry-approved protocols that stifle innovation, quality and competition. No truer is this paradigm than with organic foods. Our aim is to uncover some of the schemes used to get the same industrial garbage approved, and to help you discern whether food is genuine or an industrial imitation. You must make this judgment yourself. No one else can ever do it for you.
Genuine Natural and Organic Practices
In order to understand how regulation of organic farming will lead to a result little better than our conventional approach, we first need to understand what is the ideal which is sought by true organic, natural and holistic farmers. The ideal we seek to achieve is food which is life giving, soil which is alive and gets better every year, and a balance which is similar to what occurs in nature. We try to achieve these ends by observing nature and trying to mimic her processes. Nature’s processes are fruitful, diverse, soil-building, and never harmful or toxic in general.
When we garden, we care first for our soil. Healthy soil is an ocean full of life. It is far from being just dirt – something to hold the plant up. If the soil is sufficiently healthy (which is often hard to accomplish), plants grow green and healthy. Their fruit is full of minerals, and insects leave the plants alone. Fertilizers and pesticides are simply unnecessary. Getting the soil into this healthy state is difficult if it has been robbed by conventional farming. Achieving this soil condition is the greatest task for the holistic farmer.
In animal husbandry, a similar situation occurs. We must have a healthy soil, and rotate or move our animals around our farms in a fashion mimicking natural patterns. Animals belong outdoors. Indoor confinement and feedlots are unnatural and extremely unhealthy for both the animal and the person who eats from the animal. In nature, animals are on the pastures and in the woods. Cattle must be continually moved onto fresh pasture that is similar to what the buffalo did naturally. Sheep or goats should be included in the farm, in order to take the place of the deer in the wild. Poultry are also an essential component in which nature usually provides birds to follow the buffalo herds. By imitating these natural patterns, we eliminate disease, parasites, and dramatically improve nutrition and flavour.
In contrast to what we term natural or holistic farming, organic regulations only seek to prohibit many chemicals, and some other inputs. They do not require any of the models or practices discussed, nor could they even if desired. For example, how do you require the delicate dance of cattle, sheep and poultry? How do you define when soil is healthy or how to make it so? These ideals defy definition. Furthermore, since organic foods are just another commodity, the only incentive for the farmer is to lower his costs. Since all food that meets the requirements is “organic”, then the farmer that produces his for the least cost will be the most profitable. This mechanism is the exact same one that delivers us our conventional food that is hardly more nutritious than cardboard. The end result for organic food will be the same – low cost and equally low quality.
The various organic regulations govern only what is not to be applied to either crops or the soil. It is a set of prohibitions, but no pro-active measures. Prohibited are artificial pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Also prohibited are animal manures, even if applied by the animal itself. This latter regulation we consider to be harmful to the soil, as we’ll explain shortly. Organically derived pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are permitted. While these regulations are a big improvement to conventional practices, they fall far short of the farming we described previously.
While organic pesticides do not poison the food or the soil, they are still toxic to the farmer and beneficial insects. In balanced natural farming, there exist a number of techniques to completely eliminate the need for pesticides. By building the soil, properly rotating crops, and growing crops on a smaller scale, pests and diseases are almost never a problem. If a conventional farmer however, one day decides to go organic in order to realize higher prices for his crop, without laying the foundation we have described, he is going to have insect problems. He can then resort to organically approved pesticides and still get the same result as he did conventionally. He still hasn’t improved his soil, his produce is still mineral deficient, and the pesticides are still toxic to him and beneficial insects. You can bet that the produce coming out of mega-farms out west is raised very similar to conventional produce, albeit without the pesticide residues. While some will say, “that is exactly what I want – no pesticide residue”, the same person is overlooking the fact that the food thus produced is still nutritionally deficient.
Organic regulations prohibit artificial fertilizers which if improperly applied can damage the soil. They can also mimic the appearance of a healthy plant; yet leave it devoid of important minerals. There are organically approved fertilizers of course, which are an improvement over artificial ones in general. However, while not harmful to the soil as artificial can be, they neither build the soil, nor really benefit the food grown anymore than artificial ones. Ironically, artificial fertilizers aren’t harmful if applied judiciously. For example in a grazing situation, they can even out forage growth throughout the year, and actually contribute to faster soil building and restoration.
Also prohibited are un-composted animal manures. While composting definitely improves the value of manures, it is not always necessary for good results. By adding composting requirements that are quite onerous to meet, many organic farmers resort to using fertilizers instead, which do not build the fragile organic matter in the soil.
Conventional farming tends to mine the nutrients from the soil and in the process – depletes it. The result is a need for more fertilizers, and less nutritious food. Organic rules don’t deal with this situation at all, and in fact can contribute to the soil’s destruction. The prohibition on manures is a good example. Since the USDA involvement in organics, the regulations are often too costly to meet. Many smaller farms are therefore opting out of the certification process. Of course, larger corporations have no trouble meeting lengthy regulations. They also don’t care about building the soil, food quality or your health.
The area of organic meats and animal products is the most glaring example of how little organic certification really affects your food for the better. The requirements are simply that organically approved feed is used, as well as avoidance of most drugs. While drug avoidance is laudable, the feed requirements don’t address the very model for raising the animals. Most animals now are kept in large confinement buildings, and organic regulations don’t affect this practice. Animals were never meant to be kept inside their entire lives, and not only is it cruel, disease ridden, but their meat and products are un-healthy as well, even if it is organically approved.
In contrast, the holistic farmer permits his animals to forage outside where they belong. He moves them often to prevent disease and parasite build-up. He co-ordinates multiple species movements to further mimic nature and avoid even more disease problems. The animal’s food is what is natural to them, not just what produces the fastest gain. The model used for raising animals is really more important than whether the feed used meets organic standards or not. Without a healthy model, all the approved feed in the world will not compensate for such a deficiency.
Other Healthy Sounding Terms
As we have seen, the term organic means very little in how your food was produced. Whenever regulations exist, there will always be creative ways around them. Here are some other terms used to mislead folks into thinking they are getting something other than the standard industrial garbage:
- Free range – this term applies to eggs. Most folks think this term means access to pasture. It does not. It merely means the hens are not caged, and can move around on the factory floor. They also might have access to a small dirt yard. Is still means they are confined in a large factory house and never eat anything green or living their entire lives.
- Omega-3 – this fatty acid is very important to your health. Products touting it are an improvement over the conventional ones, but they obtain this fat artificially, by feeding special grains. This enhancement is not nearly as good for you as products high in omega-3 naturally. Animals normally get omega-3 fats from eating green forage, such as grass and clover.
- CLA – this is another important fatty acid. Non-holistic growers have also found a way to boost this fat artificially with special grain feeding. Since ruminant animals are the only ones that have this fat, feeding grains to enhance it will not enhance your health. Ruminant animals should not be feed grain at all.
- Grass-fed – some unscrupulous grazers are appropriating this term to cash-in on the new research showing the health benefits of grass-fed meat. You must make sure the animal is never feed grain, as grain feeding will eliminate the benefits of grass in only a few months. If a local producer uses a hand-full of grain to catch a cow when needed is not a problem, but daily grain feeding is.
I hope I have demonstrated that you cannot trust someone else to ensure your food meets your standards of quality – you must make the effort to judge for yourself. If you want quality food, you must buy it from farmers who you can speak to and whom you can trust. That is how food has been purchased for the many hundreds of years prior to the FDA and USDA. It is time we return to that type of system. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for government approval before you can begin getting such food. You can seek out holistic, natural farmers today and begin buying your food from them.