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Is There More to the "Organic" Labels?

Photo by Ben Christensen

Organic food is becoming a bigger and bigger business. Just in the last 18 years the organic food industry has grown from 15 billion in 1999 to a whopping 97 billion in 2017! A recent study has shown that 50% of US consumers believe organic is better than conventional grown food. Wow this is great!! Wouldn’t you say? But is there more to the story? Is there more we should be looking for than that organic label?

First off let me tell you about me. Ryan. I grew up on Date Creek with my mother Kimberley, my stepdad Stefan, and my sister Amberley. My mom is health conscious and some would go as far as to say my mother is a bit of a health nut. Which don’t get me wrong… I believe is a great way to raise kids…in moderation, of course. There was no white flour to be found in our house, no white sugar, and I’d say 95% organic. I remember as a child that Halloween would come around and I loved trick or treat time! I’m sure it gave my mom gray hair thinking about all that white sugar! She would go to the health food store and buy some “healthy candy” and trade us for street candy, sometimes she would even give us money for the candy. Back then I thought it was dumb, now I have more of an understanding of why she did those crazy things!

For many years I couldn’t care less about organic and all the health stuff that goes with it. Still, today the health benefits are not my priority. So then why do I spend so much extra money on organic and sustainable food? It is because I believe that herbicides, pesticides and all the other chemicals we use in our lives are extremely damaging to our environment—our soil, our water, our wildlife, and for our future generations. This is the reason I will pay 50% more for organic food.

Same goes for meat products. The health benefits of eating grass fed beef or pastured chickens is not a priority for me even though I whole heartedly believe it is much better for you. The reason I don’t buy corn finished beef or CAFO chicken or pork is because I don’t believe that its right or fair to confine animals under unnatural conditions which don’t allow them to express their innate "cow-ness" or "pig-ness".

Savannah giving one of our pastured pigs a nice belly rub

So why not go buy that $9.00 a pound grass fed organic beef at the store? Doesn’t that seem like the right thing to do? Believe it or not just because that pound of grass fed beef says product of USA does not mean it was raised here. USDA law permits the animal to be processed in Australia, shipped all the way across the world, processed some more in USA and if it passes inspection it is labeled as a product of the USA. Really? Isn’t there something wrong with that picture? Okay, so maybe this beef is organic and yes it is grass fed BUT is this really sustainable if our grass fed beef is shipped from half way across the world? That 9,000 mile journey from Australia or 5,000 mile journey from Uruguay, with all the fuel and other resources, and yet it’s still labeled as organic? That is what I mean when I say there is more we should be looking for than that organic label.

In addition, just because it is USDA organic does not mean there are no synthetic substances. Just because it says organic does not mean it is 100% organic. When it comes to packaged foods, only a label that says “100 percent organic” indicates a product made solely with organic ingredients. “Organic,” on the other hand, means 95 percent of the ingredients are organic, while “made with organic ingredients” is reserved for products with at least 70 percent certified organic ingredients.

I believe that organic food products are far superior over conventional agriculture. However, I also believe there’s more to the story. Take the time to get to know where your organic product has come from, get to know your local producer and determine his/her means of production, and decide what’s important for you and your family. Remember your local producer may not have the certified organic label or certified grass-fed label but when you have visited their operation and know how they do things it will build trust vs. buying from a huge corporation that is far away and is always looking for loop holes to avoid following the rules. There are lots of great local CSA’s and they need your support.

Ryan, atop Archie with Tres Alamos mountains behind

Savannah and I have found our own way to vote with our dollars. We are not poor by any means but were are far from wealthy. I’d say we buy about 75% organic foods and we are aiming to do better. But as we all know it is quite a bit more expensive. This year we have a fairly decent sized garden and hopefully we can produce a lot of our own vegetables. There are some things we will continue to buy—I love avocados as they are one of my favorite things! That’s the one I struggle with the most— organic avocados 2 for $5.00 or non-organic 4 for $5.00?! AHH, I really want 4 avocados and some times I cave and get the 4. Most of the time I settle for the 2 and just don’t eat them so frequently. (Moderation...)

With all said and done I think over all we as a population are moving in the right direction. As long as we all think about it and make an educated decision I believe we will build a more sustainable, regenerative world.

- Ryan Barteau


Foreign Beef Can Legally be Labeled "Product of USA"

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