Concern about food safety prompted Americans to spend $28.6 billion on organic foods in 2011. Organic labels have popped up everywhere in supermarket aisles. However, according to Kip Pastor's "In Organic We Trust," the product you are buying that is labelled organic maybe a dud.
To be truly organic, farmers must be inspected by a certifying agent accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure they are not using harmful pesticides, chemicals, antibiotics, sewage sludge, radiation, or genetic modification on crops and livestock. Then their products can display "USDA organic." This means that many food items claiming to be organic really are not, says Pastor, who puts the U.S. food industry under a microscope in this well made, engrossing documentary.
However, there are defects in the system as certified agents earn their salary by charging organic farmers to check the crops. "They charge organic farmers additional money to be organic. They have it all ass backwards," says organic farmer Jimmy Williams." They should charge the people who are using chemicals. Those are the people who are destroying the soil."
There is also concern that because agents are paid by farmers, there is a real incentive not to fail anyone if they are cutting corners.
Furthermore, large corporations are buying smaller organic companies, meaning the organic food you buy may not be locally grown or fresh. Big companies are importing an estimated 20 percent of organic fruits and vegetables that might not be grown in ideal soils and whose nutritional value is diminished from long journeys overseas.
Despite these flaws, Pastor still comes out in favour of buying USDA labelled organic products.
Pastor also offers a broad critique of the U.S. food industry. The main problem is that the U.S. government subsidizes big corporate farms, in the hundreds of billions, that grow corn, soy, and wheat that provide ingredients for unhealthy processed junk food, ensuring they are cheaper at the supermarket. However, vegetables are not subsidized. As a result, obesity and diabetes is rampant, and life expectancy is falling.
Then there is the problem of pesticide and chemical residue in foods that Americans consume. According to Dr. Jennifer Sass, senior scientist for the National Resource Council, the U.S. uses 60 billion pounds of harmful pesticides each year that end up in food and water. Sass says studies prove that these organic phosphate chemicals attack the brain and central nervous systems.
Harvard School of Public Health Assistant Professor Dr. Alex Lu says U.S. government health agencies have never required that these pesticides and chemicals be tested. "Were being used as an experimental animal." The huge rise in cancer, Parkinson's disease, autism, childhood disorders, birth defects, leukemia, and asthma, among others, is linked to these chemical residues, suggests Lu.
These pesticides also poison farm workers and their families, which Pastor unfortunately does not mention.
Despite the grim situation, Pastor offers some hope. He shows positive examples of local efforts to grow organic food in urban areas and serve healthy foods in schools. He says that there are over 7,000 farmer's markets across the U.S. that sell locally grown, organic fruits, and vegetables.
Pastor's "In Organic We Trust" is a must-see documentary that reinforces the importance of supporting organic agriculture.
"In Organic We Trust"
Directed by Kip Pastor
Produced by Pasture Pictures, 2012, 120 minutes
Photo: "In Organic We Trust" Facebook page