Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality
WASHINGTON, DC, May 5, 1998 --
Walking though the aisles of my upscale neighborhood grocer, I pondered a question of the utmost importance. How can I be sure that the $9 pack of "organic" watercress sprouts really are organic?
Apparently, I'm not alone in my intense concern with this issue. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman announced last week his latest revisions to proposed standards to be set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As a result of these changes, genetically engineered and irradiated foods will soon not be able to claim organic status. The new changes are clearly a matter of common sense. The most sacred tenet of organic food is that the food has to be natural.
Because of this central tenet, another change in the proposed definition is puzzling. Glickman tweaked the USDA definition to forbid crops fertilized with sewage sludge.1 While sewage sludge isn't exactly the most popular substance in the world, it is quite natural. Fertilizing crops with sewage runoff is as old as agriculture itself. The first grain fields were planted in Mesopotamian river valleys using sewage water for irrigation.
The USDA definition of organic food should not only allow fertilization with sewage sludge, it should require it. After all, E. coli bacteria are perfectly natural.
This concept isn't new to modern producers of organic food. Last year, 61 people were sickened and 21 hospitalized due to fecal residue on commercially grown organic lettuce. One 3-year-old girl had to undergo brain surgery to remove a huge pool of blood caused by her perfectly organic infection.2
Such occurrences are terrifying, but necessary consequences of eating truly organic food. It is important to remember that the goal of the USDA initiative is not to promote food safety. It is intended to create a stringent federal definition of the term organic. With this in mind, a number of other restrictions should be considered:
In order to gain political favor with anti-regulation Republicans, the USDA should also include a number of regulatory breaks for the organic food industry to apply to only organic foods:
To be sure, many of these proposals will not be popular among consumers of organic foods. This is irrelevant. The purpose of the USDA initiative is not to implement a politically correct regimen. It is intended to protect consumers from those who would falsely label their products as organic.
Truly organic food is dangerous and disgusting. This is precisely the reason for 5,000 years of scientific development of better and safer food products. Reactionary consumers wish to throw away this progress in favor of inferior and unsanitary products of days gone by.
If you're foolish enough to desire organic food, that's exactly what you deserve.
1. The Washington Post, "'Organic' Label Ruled Out For Biotech, Irradiated Food", May 1, 1998
2. The New York Times, "From a Farm in California to Outbreak of Food Poisoning in the East", January 5, 1998.