Sam Fromartz on the WaPo’s organic standards article
"Don’t make a fucking shelf-stable organic English muffin!": We've been holding off on Digesting the Washington Post's much-talked-about and hands-wrung-over story, “Purity of Organic Label is Questioned,” which ran last week. Leading with a truly arresting example of how synthetic additives were first banned from organic baby formula, then overruled by the rogueishly pro-business USDA program administrator Barbara Robinson (who provided some really choice quotes: "she believes the federal program's main purpose is to 'grow the industry' and…dismissed controversies over synthetics in organic foods as 'mostly ridiculous'"), the story purports to delve into how critics fear the organic “program's lax standards are undermining the federal program and the law itself.” We held off because while there was definitely a lot of smoke — the acrid scrim of at least one government career (we hope) going up in flames — the fire itself seemed, well, to be relying on a lot of mirrors. That many synthetics are used in organic processed food is a bummer, but no bombshell. (See 2007 Ethicurean rant about Annie's Organic Mac-n-Cheese.) Fortunately, while we were enjoying a mostly offline holiday weekend and procrastinating over how to respond to it, "Organic, Inc." author Sam Fromartz has deftly dismantled the piece over on his blog, Chews Wise. "The tension discussed in the article, between those who have always sought to expand the industry and those who seek a more purist vision" wasn’t particularly news, Sam writes. "Often those camps are presented as big corporations on the one hand (chipping away at regulations) and small farmers striving to keep things pure on the other, both at one another's throats." And that's not the case. Read why, and why Sam thinks the article veered "into histrionics and inaccuracy," here. More: Our July 2006 review of "Organic, Inc." covers a lot of the background of the modern organic food industry, but go stright to the source itself if you still think organic Twinkies are healthier because they come straight from the little family farm with the organic Twinkie orchard.
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