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LOST IN LEGISLATION: THE CULTURAL AND POLITICAL MEANINGS OF "ORGANIC" BY LAUREN ALEXANDRA CARDELLA A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Environmental Studies New College of Florida In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Ba chelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Frank Alcock Sarasota, Florida April 2009
Table of Contents Abstract ...ii Chapter One: Introduction ..1 Chapter Two: The History of Alternative Agricult ure Movements in the Twentieth Century United States .8 Chapter Three: National Standards and the Political Dynamics Between the Federal Government and the Organic Farming Movement ...38 Chapter Four: Concluding Th oughts.67 Appendix I 75 Appendix II ...77 Appendix III ..79 References .80
ii LOST IN LEGISLATION: THE CULTURAL AND POLITICAL MEANINGS OF "ORGANIC" Lauren Alexandra Cardella New College of Florida, 2009 ABSTRACT In 2002, the United States Department of Agriculture launched the National Organic Program, which promises that any food labeled "organic" has been gro wn and processed according to nationally uniform and recognized standards. But what does "organic" mean? Organic agriculture has a long history in the United States as a radical, grassroots movement promoting human health, environmental stewardship, and a decentralized food system. The USDA has a long history of promoting chemical and capital intensive agriculture that leads to serious degradation of ecosystems, destruction of small farms and rural communities, and feeds a highly centralized, corporate controlled food system. How did organic agriculture come to be regulated by the USDA? Organic food shifted from a countercultural, health food, niche market to a multi billion dollar mainstream industry. To facilitate trade and protect hard earned price premiums, the industry lobbied Congress for legislation to create a national standard. However, fundamental differences in ideology and a history of mutual antagonism ensured ongoing conflicts between the USDA and the organic movement. This thesis chroni cles the history of organic agriculture in the United States, and examines the ongoing political relationship between the USDA and the organic agriculture movement.
iii Frank Alcock Environmental Studies
1 Chapter One: Introduction "...the path that agrarian idealists had taken in the 1970s -to farm in concert with nature and sell organic food outside the dominant food system -became compromised by its success." -Samuel Fromartz Amid the flurry of media attention dedicated to "going green," organic food of ten stands in the spotlight. Despite considerable price premiums, concerns about energy and resource consumption and the use of potentially harmful agricultural chemicals have effectively induced many American consumers to turn to organic foods over conve ntional foods. The organic sector comprises only 2.8% of total U.S. food sales, but is one of the fastest growing: a $1 billion industry in 1990, organic food sales for 2007 are estimated at $21.2 billion (Organic Trade Association, 2008). What started a s a grassroots movement associated with the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s has come fully into the mainstream. 1 Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this success is how it was achieved despite an antagonistic political landscape. The country's food system the complete system by which food is produced and provided, including growing, processing, distribution and even disposal is supported largely through federal agricultural policy. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers programs and policies that oversee food safety and quality, determine which foods are cheapest and most abundant, and advance particular methods of agricultural production. For at least the last 50 years, the USDA has heavily supported chemical and capita l intensive, highly mechanized, 1 A study by the Hartman Group in 2008 reported that 69% of U.S. adult consumers buy organic products at least occasionally. The Hartman Group, The Many Faces of Or ganic 2008 Summer 2008.
2 corporate monocultures, typically referred to as conventional agriculture (Pollan, 2007). This kind of agriculture is the natural underpinning of an industrial food system that is characterized by cheap, often heavily proce ssed (or "value added") foods, global markets, and a large degree of separation between producer and consumer. Organic agriculture developed as a movement to redress the perceived environmental and social ills of conventional agriculture and the industria l food system. Organic agriculture set out to bring food production back to a human scale, move away from highly reductionist scientific approaches to farming and recognize the importance of ecological context. It was all supposed to happen in a decentra lized, egalitarian food system, assuring a deeper connection between people and their food, and in turn, the earth. Proponents of organic agriculture were sure that conventional agriculture would destroy the environment, greatly impairing our ability to grow food indefinitely into the future. Opponents of organic agriculture claimed that it had no scientific basis or validity and that the population would starve and dwindle without the use of technology. Besides, there was nothing at all wrong with the country's food system, which provided safe, affordable, abundant food for all. The USDA, providing the foundation and structure for this food system and method of agriculture, was not interested in granting organic agriculture credence, much less offer m onetary or research support. Organic agriculture's development into an industry and subsequent regulation by the USDA raise some interesting questions. What are the cultural and political meanings of "organic"? The meaning of organic has always been har d to pin down even within the movement mostly because of the emphasis on adaptation to place appropriate practices
3 and inputs for a farm should be based on available resources and the ecosystem context. Is it possible to translate organic methods, process es, and ethics into certifiable regulations? Can federal standards help maintain the integrity of organic agriculture, as they were intended, under the jurisdiction of a department with antithetical prerogatives? This thesis addresses these questions thr ough a historical narrative of the organic farming movement, highlighting the creation of a national organic certification program and the political and ideological tensions it caused. Outline of Chapters Chapter 2 covers the history of the organic farmin g movement beginning in the 1920s through the early 1990s. The historical review not only delineates the most important ideological threads in the organic farming movement, it is crucial to understanding the unavoidable political tensions between the move ment and the federal government. There are two distinct movements: the first burgeoned in the interim of the two World Wars and the second started in the 1960s as a prime factor of the modern environmental movement. In much of the literature, the first m ovement is either ignored or downplayed as an offshoot of the concurrent European movement. 2 The permanent agriculture movement grew alongside the new science of ecology and focused on long term soil building, but also included social prescriptions and vi sions of utopia. The drama of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression made for a ripe social climate to promulgate the ideas of permanent agriculture, and the movement gained considerable popularity. Some of the New Deal legislation attempted to address t he concerns of 2 The Untied States led the way in chemical intensive, industrial agriculture, and insofar as the sustainable agriculture movement in the United States was a response to this kind of agriculture, it should be considered significant in its own right.
4 permanent agriculture, including the first Farm Bill, the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933. World War II marked the recession of the movement as the agricultural economy boomed. Wartime technologies were adapted for agricultural applica tions, quickly advancing conventional agriculture. The second sustainable agriculture movement precipitated under similar circumstances. Rachel Carson published "Silent Spring" in 1962, calling attention to the ecological depravities of chemically inte nsive farming and ostensibly sparking the modern environmental movement (Beeman, 2002). The contemporary organic farming movement was explicitly reacting against the impersonal, corporate and environmentally irresponsible modes of food distribution and co nsumption. By the late 1960s, sustainable agriculture was bolstered by the counterculture and manifested in part as a "back to the land" movement. Instead of dying out along with the failed communes, many small organic farmers found local, niche markets and thrived (Guthman, 2004). The failures of the conventional food system became apparent in the late 1970s and 1980s as another economic crisis struck American farms and nation wide food safety scares commanded public attention. Organic farmers sudden ly had a demand they could not fill; in other words, they were actually making money. This phenomenon attracted opportunists and highly ambitious entrepreneurs interested in creating and growing an industry. Such conditions also attracted instances of fr aud that threatened to diminish consumer trust in the legitimacy of organic foods and consequently, the profitable market organic farmers had built. Representatives of the organic industry petitioned Congress to pass legislation to establish and regulate a nationally uniform organic standard. This
5 measure would not only create a means of retribution for fraud, it would also facilitate trade across state lines and abroad (Fromartz, 2006). Chapter 3 covers the creation of, and ongoing conflict over, the Or ganic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990. This legislation established the National Organic Program (NOP) to uphold a national standard for organic foods; the program was to be administered by the USDA. The chapter opens with a concise overview of the r ole of alternative agriculture and environmental issues in Farm Bills and USDA programs, which provides important contextual information. The supporters of the legislation were diverse, and included farmers, consumers, processors, environmentalists, and p ublic health activists, but their vision for a strong national standard was surprisingly cohesive. The USDA was the biggest, and virtually singular, detractor of the bill, for obvious reasons -many of the practices and materials approved by the USDA are u nacceptable in organic production, creating more than a few internal policy contradictions. When the USDA presented the first version of the proposed rules in 1997 for public comment, there was an enormous negative response to what members of the organi c community saw as a severe degradation of the guidelines and intentions of the OFPA. In particular, public outrage was focused on the allowance of "The Big Three" genetically engineered organisms (GEOs), irradiation, and biosolids in the proposed rules. 3 The in pouring of over 275,000 comments indicated that organic producers and consumers were paying attention to the federal regulation, and were unusually dedicated 3 Genetically Engineered Organisms are organisms whose DNA has been artificially spliced with the DNA of another, often unrelated organism, resulting in organisms that could not exist in nature. Irradiation, or ionizing radiation, is th e use of radioactive materials (by products of nuclear fission) to sanitize food. Biosolids are the treated sewage sludge from municipal waste systems. The reasons why these materials are deemed inappropriate for organic production are detailed in chapte r 3.
6 to upholding meaningful organic standards (Fromartz, 2006). The controversy of the propo sed rules reveals key dynamics between the organic movement, the organic standards, and the USDA. Though the "Big Three" were amended and the program implemented in 2002, this was hardly the last conflict between the movement and the USDA. Organic agricu lture advocacy organizations continue to monitor the National Organic Program, rallying support as necessary to push for greater integrity, or at least prevent further degradation. There remains wide disagreement about the prospects and successes of the N OP. The organic industry sees certification as a necessary measure to enhance markets for all producers. The growth of corporate organic agriculture has made organic foods more accessible to people regardless of income or location. The NOP has also been successful by utilizing real markets to incentivize an environmentally beneficial practice: cultivating more land under organic management (Hornstein, 2007). There is a more ideological perspective that argues federal standards and certification should b e unnecessary because organic food systems should operate outside of the conventional food system, and remain local in scope. The existence of corporate organic is an aberration that cheapens organic foods economically and ethically. According to this pe rspective, organic standards are inherently incapable of translating organic tenets into effective regulation and actually encourage the deterioration of organic practices (DeLind, 2000). The standardization of organic production, intended to prevent entr y and fraud from opportunistic farmers and companies, actually fostered such entry and moved organic agriculture into established markets (Guthman, 2004). Chapter 4 elucidates these ideas and offers some insight for
7 the direction of the organic movement a nd the organic standards, as well as suggestions for further research. The substance of the national organic standards needs to be understood if the NOP is to fulfill its purpose of holding the public trust in a private market to ensure that "organic" act ually means something. Unfortunately, the standards have been obscured in much the same way that nearly all agricultural policy is obscured through vague or highly technical language, built in loopholes, and quiet concessions for special interest groups w ith deep pockets. Farmers and consumers have stakes in these standards. They produce organically or buy organic foods because they believe conventional food production is unhealthy for people and the planet. People go out of their way to grow or find o rganic food, and in the process become more connected to their food supply in a way that most people have forgotten about. Though not all farmers and consumers adhere to the ideologies of the movement, they must believe that there is a difference between conventional and organic that is worth conserving. People should not and will not tolerate a standard that means nothing. To this end, it is imperative to understand the historical conflict between conventional agriculture, the federal government, and th e organic agriculture movement. This knowledge will empower us to address core issues and overcome the barriers to a healthy, responsible food system that serves people and farmers.
8 Chapter Two: The History of Alternative Agriculture Movements in the Twen tieth Century United States Tracing the history of sustainable agriculture is no small task. One could look at different cultures, in different parts of the world, at different periods of time, and see wild variation in the lasting viability of particula r agricultural systems. The development of sustainable agriculture in the United States has a peculiar history unlike some older, smaller, or otherwise resource poor countries, there was never any pressing reason for American farmers to develop conservati ve farming methods. It was in the years surrounding the First World War that skepticism toward increasingly scientific agricultural methods and concern over their effect on the nation's resources took hold in the public consciousness. The history of la nd use in the United States can be characterized by a pattern of settlement, intensive cultivation, and finally abandonment when yields inevitably drop. The result is, in effect, soil mining using up stored nutrients in the soil without replenishing them (or for that matter, recycling farm wastes) (Blum 1992). The seemingly endless abundance of prime cropland in the United States coupled with the influential forces of a market driven economy, led to a national mindset that the soil would always produce ab undantly regardless of how it was used. The United States Bureau of Soils captured that sentiment in 1909, declaring that, "The soil is the one indestructible, immutable asset that the nation possesses. It is the one resource that cannot be exhausted; th at cannot be used up." (Worster 1985) Even President Thomas Jefferson's famed agrarian ideal in which farmers were to have an intimate connection with their small plot of land serve as prime examples of a moral, democratic citizenry, maintain the vitality of rural communities and in turn, the greater national economy was
9 fed by the illusion of unlimited abundance. The expansive lands of the U.S. interior were available to be settled and cultivated by the yeoman farmer, with the ultimate goal of a continuo us patchwork of farms stretching from coast to coast (Esbjornson 1992). Early Resistance The exploitative practice of soil mining agriculture did not go uncontested. As early as 1854, Henry David Thoreau, primarily known for his influence in the conserva tion movement, questioned agricultural practices in Walden His main concern was how to reconcile the inevitable necessity of human encroachment (agriculture) with ecological consciousness. This pivotal question, and his bean patch methods, were primaril y a reaction to the ways of American agriculture, which he saw as blindly driven by commercial interests and conspicuously lacking in restraint or foresight (Esbjornson 1992). In 1911, soil scientist Franklin H. King published Farmers of Forty Centuries a study of extraordinarily productive and perpetuated agricultural practices used in the Japanese, Chinese and Korean cultures. King, disappointed in the wastefulness of American agriculture, retired from his position as the Chief of the Soil Management d ivision in the USDA to conduct the research with the intention of bringing some lessons of permanence to the West (Conford 2001). Liberty Hyde Bailey, also an important figure in the conservation movement, developed the idea of a land ethic that would inf orm the ideology of sustainable agriculture activists later in the century. He also founded the Society for the Holy Earth, formed in response to agricultural crises and a forerunner of agriculturally oriented conservation organizations such as Friends of the Land, which, in the 1940s, became an influential national organization promoting sustainable agriculture (Beeman and Pritchard 2001). Even though these efforts did not
10 produce a full scale "movement", they were instrumental in the development of the permanent agriculture ethic. The First Sustainable Agriculture Movement: Permanent Agriculture The years of the First World War are often referred to as the Golden Age of American farming and the agricultural methods that formed during this time were the impetus for the permanent agriculture movement of the 1930s and 1940s. With European markets effectively halted, American farmers were called upon to step up production and feed the world. To do so was not just a moral imperative but also a patriotic dut y, the means to win the war. Farmers, in return, did not hesitate to rise to the call. Already prone to overproduction, record prices for commodity crops motivated farmers to push the limits of their land in order to take advantage of such a favorable ma rket. This (over) confidence in the stability of these prices led many to invest heavily in additional land and the latest, largest machinery available, often on credit. Use of chemicals also increased, especially in the years directly after the war, whe n industries developed during the war targeted farmers to be the new, primary consumers of their products. As the Europeans recovered and resumed agricultural production, commodity prices started to decline. To compensate for this, farmers put more effo rt into production, trying to make the most of the new technologies adopted during the war. Overproduction and the consequent precipitous drop in prices would soon prove to be a relatively unimportant worry. As the farm economy continued to decline durin g the 1920s, so did the health the nation's soil, particularly on the Great Plains. The widespread and intensive use of chemical fertilizers caused irreparable damage to the soil: reduced fertility as a result of diminished organic matter content, comprom ised structure, and increased erosion (Blum 1992).
11 Just as the economic and social devastations of the Great Depression were setting in, so did severe drought responsible for the "Dust Bowl" in the Great Plains. The farm economy, already in distress, was dealt another blow at the onset of the Great Depression. This period was also marked by severe, prolonged drought that quickly destroyed the soil, which was vulnerable to erosion after years of misuse. 4 The scale of the problem, in addition to its high v isibility in the form of massive dust storms, brought soil erosion to the attention of the government and the general public. Farming techniques then came under scrutiny. Farmers felt threatened by imminent land foreclosure and perpetual debt, leading t hem to coalesce and resort to desperate and sometimes violent measures, such as the actions espoused through the Farmer's Holiday Association. In 1932, the Farmers' Union decided to take a "holiday" (strike) to protest unacceptable market prices and rampa nt foreclosures, and refused to sell their produce. The farmers were hoping that the federal government would guarantee price supports that would cover production costs plus a modest profit, but the holiday could not be sustained very long, as farmers nee ded to support their families. The National Guard was called out to Wisconsin, where some striking farmers were beaten. The Farmer's Holiday Association remained active until 1936, but rather than have holidays, they used coercion and threats to block fo reclosures after bidding pennies at auction, bank officers were compelled to accept these bids as full payment for debt (Beeman and Pritchard 2001). As the farm crisis became more desperate, farmers distrusted the advice and interference of the establishm ent, and were more open to new 4 Misuse can be defined by what was not done as well by what was done. In addition to the use of chemical fertilizers and heavy plows, farmers failed to implement regenerative practices such as cover cropping (leaving the surface of the soil exposed to the elements), nutrient recycling, and low or no tillage methods that would help keep the soil structure intact.
12 ideas and types of farming. Sustainable, permanent agriculture was billed by its proponents as a solution to many, if not all, of the problems plaguing American agriculture. Sir Albert Howard of England is widely acknowledg ed as the founder of organic agriculture, and while its true that his teachings and methods inspired much of the activity in the sustainable agriculture movement during the 1930s and 1940s, he was first inspired by the work of the American Franklin H. King Howard's research and example contributed heavily to the sustainable agriculture practices developed in the U.S. Perhaps most famous is his notion of the Law of Return which stipulates that all organic matter removed from the soil (as in the harvesting of crops) must be returned to soil through recycling of farm and urban wastes. Howard also vehemently opposed the use of manufactured chemicals, harshly criticized the influence of "Big Business" on developments in farming practices, asserted that pest a nd disease resistance started in healthy soil, and believed in looking at a farm as a whole system rather than separating it into discrete parts (Heckman 2006). All these tenets would become, and are still, ingrained in the beliefs and actions of the sust ainable agriculture movement in the United States. Aldo Leopold, the famed conservation philosopher, was a major proponent of sustainable agriculture. He contributed to the development of a "land ethic" that found room for the needs of humans and the env ironment and called for a drastic shift in the collective conscious from hating soil to fully appreciating our dependence on it. Paul Sears, a scientific ecologist, was another important public voice with strong opinions on the state of agriculture and Am erican culture. Many of Sears' contemporaries worried
13 that science (and implicitly, technology) would ultimately be the source of humanity's self destruction, he believed that understanding nature through the science of ecology would enable humans to inco rporate into, rather than rudely disrupt, the balance of natural systems. His use of modern scientific methods in ecology, and the application of those principles to agriculture, helped to legitimize the ideas and practices behind sustainable agriculture (Beeman and Pritchard 2001). Others in the movement, in particular Edward Faulkner and Louis Bromfield, lent a more practical hand in the development of sustainable agriculture. Although both were authors who published a number of influential books and a rticles, they moved their ideas from the pages to the fields. Edward Faulkner especially was considered something of a radical and certainly a fierce opponent of conventional agriculture. He published "Plowman's Folly" in 1943, in which he lamented the i nvention and continued use of the moldboard plow. It was developed to break up the dense sod of the plains but it also destroyed the soil environment so that fertility, moisture and soil processes were depleted, thereby increasing the vulnerability of soi l to erosion. For Faulkner, the adoption of "inappropriate" technologies and destruction of the soil environment made for very inefficient agriculture. Problems that conventional farmers had, and constantly battled with chemicals and heavy handed technol ogy, could be almost entirely avoided by fostering healthy soil. He also invented the disc plow, to avoid all the aforementioned problems, that was later mass produced by tractor companies and continues to be an essential implement in sustainable agricult ure. He famously said that he offered "no general utopias" but all the while believed that widespread adoption of his techniques would lead to prosperity, productivity and peace (Beeman 1993).
14 Louis Bromfield gained national esteem when he decided to rest ore a derelict farm to vibrant vitality using methods prescribed by Howard (among others) and encompassing ideals central to the movement. The thousand acre plot of land, dubbed Malabar Farm, certainly posed a major challenge for sustainable farming techn iques: years of irresponsible farming had left the land severely eroded and its watercourses polluted. Although much of his evaluation of the effects of the numerous projects were qualitative, he did report that after just 4 years wheat yields increased m ore than ten fold in the same fields. Aside from his many successes, Malabar Farm frequently hosted high profile visitors (E.B. White and Humphrey Bogart among them) as well as many ordinary visitors, primarily to educate people about sustainable agricult ure (Beeman and Pritchard 2001). Malabar Farm gave sustainable agriculture a fair chance to prove itself as a viable and efficient form of agriculture a chance that has been rarely afforded in institutional research. 5 Hugh H. Bennett is an interesting ch aracter in the sustainable agriculture movement: as the first director of the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, he was a part of the agriculture institution that was at the center of the criticisms thrown from the sustainable agriculture camp. Bennett start ed his career as a scientist in the Bureau of Soils and in 1928 co wrote (with W.R. Chapline) a USDA circular entitled "Soil Erosion a National Menace" based on extensive surveys and data collection conducted across the country. 5 There are several reasons that sustainable agriculture has not been given much attention in traditional research. Perhaps the most promi nent reason is simply that most agricultural research takes place in land grant institutions that are part of the establishment, and is often funded by agricultural chemical companies. Traditional research relies heavily on the scientific method, which wh ile useful for many applications, reduces problems and systems to individual parts instead of taking a holistic view, the basis of sustainable agriculture. Finally, as shown at Malabar Farm, sustainable agriculture methods improve the land and productivit y over years, unlike chemicals that have an immediate affect. Most experiment designs are short term, giving a definite advantage to conventional agriculture over sustainable agriculture.
15 This study, though dire in its warnings of "the evil effects of soil erosion", only garnered $100,000 of federal funds to establish a very small number of soil stations throughout the country (Worster 1985). Bennett became one of the most vociferous and well known supporters of su stainable agriculture. He believed that the shift in attitudes and practices necessary to build a permanent system of agriculture would solve most of the social and economic ills of the country. First, the American people needed to adopt the values of in terdependence and interconnectedness, long term planning, and deep gratitude for the soil and land of the country (Beeman and Pritchard 2001). Bennett also played an integral role in pushing the United States Congress to pass the 1935 Soil Erosion Act. W here Congress was previously hesitant to devote much effort or money to Bennett's cause, he was backed up by the dramatic dust storms in the worst year of the crisis. Even though water erosion accounted for much more of the lost topsoil across the country it was the suffocating "black blizzards" that drew the most attention (Worster 1985). The aforementioned men described here are by no means an exhaustive list of important and influential people in the sustainable agriculture movement of this period. T heir beliefs and activism as represented here are merely a sketch of their contributions, meant to demonstrate tangible achievements and overarching ideals throughout the movement. The national discussion and public concern they were able to engender rega rding soil erosion and other threats of conventional agriculture is impressive, especially considering (or perhaps in part due to) the tumultuousness of American life during that period. The American people were warned of the irredeemable consequences of t heir increasing disconnection from the soil that supports the nation. They were scolded for pursuing lifestyles characterized by excess, accumulation of wealth, rigid
16 individualism, and an inability to look past immediate gain. They were made to look at the example of civilizations that had perished as a result of their carelessness toward the soil. The farming establishment was, of course, also subjected to blame. Soil scientists, the USDA and the land grant colleges all aggravated destructive tendenci es by blindly developing and encouraging farmers to implement technologies that were made solely with short term productivity and profitability in mind. The activists even managed to change the frame of our national history so that the once heroic frontie r pushing farmers came to look like greedy, myopic fools (Beeman and Pritchard 2001). Friends of the Land, founded in 1940, was particularly effective at publicizing the issues, ideas and advantages of permanent agriculture and helped to place agricultural issues centrally within the development of an environmental ethic. The organization's message mirrored the shifting ethic from the Progressive Era anthropocentrism 6 to the valuing of holism and biocentrism. From its initial membership of 60, the group g rew to 10,000 by 1947. Famous members, such as Louis Bromfield and Hugh Bennett, traveled around the country giving speeches to various groups and institutions as well as over the radio and on newsreels. The organization's journal, "The Land", boasted fa mous contributors such as Sir Albert Howard, E.B. White, Rachel Carson, and Aldo Leopold, among others. The permanent agriculture leaders were nationally recognized, with an audience well beyond the farm population (Beeman and Pritchard 2001). 7 6 Often summarized by the term "wise use," anthropocentrism valued the preservation of the natural environment only because it would ensure human prosperity. 7 Interest in agricultural policy receded after this period time, along with the farm population. It was not until the past few years that such interest has picked up again as connections are made between modes of agriculture and more prominent national concerns such as global climate change and food safety (among others). Authors and activists speaking about agricultural issues have once again received national att ention. Such interest can be resented by agriculturalists who claim that urbanites have no working knowledge of farming and therefore should not be allowed to dictate farm policy.
17 Establis hment Response With all the excitement raised by the sustainable agriculture activists, the agricultural "establishment" USDA and land grant universities, scientists, and agriculture technology industries -had hardly any choice but to acknowledge and respo nd to the sometimes pointed attacks and criticisms from the movement. Soil and plant nutrition scientists explained that recycling wastes in order to build organic matter in the soil was totally unnecessary: whether the nitrogen was from synthesized ferti lizer or humus did not matter to the plants. This argument totally overlooked the important effects of structure and processes in healthy soil on the health of plants, which sustainable agriculturalists believed to be crucial. Claims like these were in o ne sense meant to demonstrate the superior precision of hard science over the integrative, holistic approach valued in alternative agriculture, but also served to misrepresent the ideas of their challengers (Heckman 2006). Results from experimental farms like Faulkner's and Bromfield's were dismissed as pseudo science unable to stand up to the rigors of real science and too small in scale to produce any notable results. They argued that without the use of chemicals and heavy machinery in agriculture, the settling of America would never have made it all the way to west coast and further, that farmers would be unable to feed growing urban populations (ignoring the problem of consistent overproduction and other causes of hunger). Following the model of natur e was hardly worth considering: agriculture was by definition a constant war against nature and soil only a resource used for growing crops. Unsurprisingly, the moral convictions and social cures that were supposed products of sustainable agriculture were not taken seriously by those in the establishment (Beeman and Pritchard 2001).
18 Still, the government could hardly ignore the detrimental effects of soil erosion on the nation's croplands and farmers. The New Deal, with its revolutionary social programs, was a perfect means to enact some of the first planned, cooperative farm legislation. The most important and lasting legislation passed during this time is undoubtedly the Soil Erosion Act of 1935. Under it, the Soil Conservation Service was established in the Department of Agriculture. One of the primary powers granted to the SCS under the 1935 Act was the power to acquire lands, whether public or private, that were unsuitable for farming to retire them from production permanently. The SCS also served as a disseminator and educator of farming techniques meant to curb soil erosion: contour plowing, terracing, gully control, windbreak planting and residue management. Local conservation districts were set up all over the country to help promote the use o f these techniques. The SCS was even active in arid places where water conservation was the main concern. Federal funds were directed into management projects such as advanced irrigation and small dams. Though the SCS remains today as the Natural Resour ces Conservation Service (still under the USDA), the program was not an unqualified success. Perhaps its most fundamental problem is the approach to solutions. The solutions offered by the SCS play into the same thinking that drives agricultural scientis ts: technology can solve any problems on the farm while maintaining or (hopefully) increasing productivity. Farmers simply had to become more skilled, more trained, rather than change their basic approach to cultivating the land. No shift in values neces sary. Further, although there are many soil conservation districts across the country, only a small fraction of them employ all of the SCS recommended techniques. The estimated soil loss due to water and wind erosion
19 in 1947 was three billion tons the es timated figure in 1977 was exactly the same (Worster 1985). The Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), established in 1933, paid farmers to let their most susceptible acres lie fallow. Two years later the Supreme Court deemed the production contro ls of the AAA unconstitutional, but was followed by the Domestic Allotment Act (DAA) in 1936. The DAA enforced soil conservation measures and production controls in a more roundabout way by paying out price supports to farmers if they planted their idled acres with soil building crops (Ogg 1992). The Resettlement Administration (RA) actually paid for the removal and relocation of farmers from unsuitable agricultural lands. The Department of Subsistence Homesteads Division, within the RA, was charged with supporting the building of model permanent agricultural rural communities. The RA and the Department of Subsistence Homesteads Division were ultimately less practical and effective than the SCS and the DAA and were quickly abandoned. These measures were more of a piecemeal attempt at soil conservation rather than a bolder comprehensive approach that was likely to suffer social and political displeasure. Permanent Agriculture Recedes World War II more or less marks the beginning of the decline of the sust ainable agriculture movement until its resurrection in the late 1960s. Farmers were again encouraged to overproduce through price supports and income guarantees offered by the government. Again farmers were called to their moral duty to feed people in th e devastated economies of Europe and Asia. Even in the years after the war (and the Korean War), food became a strategic weapon in the fight against communism in the Cold War. Residual technologies from the war industries (in particular chemical
20 industri es) aided rapid advances in industrial agricultural technology. Many small, marginal farmers went out of business during and after the war, while those who could concentrated on expanding their operations investing in more land, buying bigger labor saving machines and using the increasingly available and diverse agricultural chemicals (including DDT and its derivatives) in record amounts (Beeman and Pritchard 2001). This method of farming was arguably only economically viable because of cheap petroleum, w hich provided the energy to move the machines and produce the chemicals (Pollan 2006). Government support for conservation generally and sustainable agriculture in particular declined in other ways as well. The many components of federal conservation init iatives were divided among agencies making cooperation and cohesiveness nearly impossible. Without much leadership or support, conservation agriculture hardly made the farm policy agenda. In the early 1950s, the Republican Party was gaining more influenc e as a reaction toward legislation and federal programs made during, or in the mold of, the New Deal. Farmers and Congress alike were pleased to see aggressive programs become decentralized and voluntary. Instead, the agricultural "iron triangle" agency personnel, commodity and agribusiness interest groups, and congressional subcommittee members solidified during the 1950s resulting in static, inaccessible federal agricultural policy for decades to come. Subcommittees became very specialized because they were organized by commodity and staffed by representatives from important agricultural districts where the particular commodity predominated. Congresspersons had a tacit agreement not to raise objections to the recommendations of other subcommittees, so that everyone got what they wanted: unchanged policies. The
21 vast majority of research published during this time was totally focused on the conventional methods of farming. Government sponsored research nearly exclusively favored conventional agriculture another consequence of the closed processes in Congressional subcommittees (Mrill Ingram 2005). Even independent research depended on the iron triangle (also referred to as the "establishment"). University scientists were pressured to produce research o ften, but left to find their own funding. Agricultural chemical companies were happy to provide research funds, mostly to find new uses for materials developed during the war. Additionally, the rate at which publications were expected did not lend itself to the sort of long term trials that would best demonstrate the advantages of sustainable over conventional agriculture (Merrill 1983). The American public also became disenchanted with promises of a peaceable interdependent society based on small scale ec ological farms. To be fair, many of the idyllic claims made by sustainable agriculture activists were rather ambitious, if not unattainable. Additionally, many of the most vocal leaders of the sustainable agriculture movement either died or retreated from the public eye during the 1950s, reducing the movement to underground status. Just before his death in 1956, Louis Bromfield retracted much of his zeal when he admitted that Malabar Farm was a financial and social failure. In the post war years, the rea lity of mass consumption, suburban expansion and the nuclear family ideal, and the increasing presence of corporations shifted attention away from conservation. With the ever present threat of communism looming and the crisis and impressive imagery of th e Dust Bowl well past, soil erosion was no longer a public concern (Beeman and Pritchard 2001).
22 The Beginnings of Organic Agriculture: Misguided Technology and the Modern Environmental Movement The Green Revolution, driven by the work of Norman Bourlag, was an impressive feat of biotechnology in agricultural applications. Through the manipulation of genes, typical staple foods such as rice and wheat could be made more nutritious or suitable for growth in difficult environments. The primary benefactors w ere supposed to be developing countries with serious malnourishment and food shortage problems; Bourlag even won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work. For ecologists and early proponents of organic agriculture, the Green Revolution was the ultimate example of misguided technology, "the agricultural equivalent of the Titanic, only this time there are several billion passengers." (Beeman and Pritchard 2001, 95) The new, engineered crops were not necessarily well suited to place, but well suited to monoculture: the crops could withstand higher doses of more powerful chemicals and were most easily harvestable by machine. Issues of culture and ecology were entirely ignored, as if agriculture could exist within a vacuum. Dwarf wheat developed for Mexico was expens ive, too low in gluten to make bread and inappropriate as a hunger solution because beans and corn have long been the staples of the Mexican diet. The dwarf wheat was really destined for the export market to become livestock feed for more affluent countri es. To the extent that farmers could adopt these technologies, it made them more dependent on fossil fuel energy and expensive seeds, chemicals, machinery and irrigation. For ecologists and sustainable agriculturalists, the most pervasive problem with Gr een Revolution technology was basic to the ideology behind it: that science knew better than nature and technology could overcome any natural limitations to production (Beeman and Pritchard 2001).
23 Other environmental problems related to conventional agricu lture added momentum to the development of the organic agriculture and environmental movement during the 1960s and 1970s. The organic agriculture and environmental movements are highly interrelated; as Beeman and Pritchard put it, "agricultural issues wer e fundamental to the rise of environmentalism in the Unites States (Beeman and Pritchard 2001, 89). The controversy and eventual banning of DDT exposed the regular practice of indiscriminate use of highly toxic poisons in food production and the lack of g overnment oversight in determining the safety and regulating the use of such chemicals (Lear 1992). Soil erosion rates in the 1970s were worse than in the Dust Bowl years, the repercussions of overproduction and abandoned soil conservation policy and tech niques (Esbjornson 1992). Public concern over issues such as an exploding world population, limited resources, expansion of urban and suburban places, wilderness preservation and clean air, water and food, could all be addressed through agriculture (Beema n and Pritchard 2001). Organic farming/sustainable agriculture was a way to protect the environment, right the wrongs of a sick food system, actively protest the establishment, and disengage from harmful mass culture (Belasco 2007). The environmental mov ement was able to bring many of these issues to the fore of the public consciousness, calling into question a food system that was heretofore unchallenged and significantly disrupting the status quo. The Challenge of Silent Spring In 1962, Rachel Carson p ublished her landmark book Silent Spring an event that many claim was the spark behind the modern environmental movement. It also brought scrutiny to the agricultural establishment, opening up a public debate about chemical use and helping to create favo rable conditions for the development of an alternative, ecological/sustainable agriculture. The thesis of Silent Spring was straightforward: "that
24 poisons and biologically potent chemicals were being used indiscriminately by people largely unaware of thei r ultimate impact either on man or the natural world." (Lear 1992, 152) Carson used DDT, a well known, scientifically acclaimed and widely used pesticide, and three ill conceived and terribly unsuccessful federal pest eradication campaigns as examples of irresponsible and gratuitous chemical use with serious consequences for ecological and human health (Lear 1992). The USDA and its research division, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), were primary targets of Carson's indictment. Carson had been clo sely following the campaign to eradicate the Southern fire ant and was deeply concerned about the use of two pesticides known to be highly toxic and stored in the human body. Rather than using local, concentrated applications, the pesticides were broadcas t by airplane over 20 million acres. The ARS justified this campaign to the public (as well as environmentalists and other skeptics) by overstating the damage to people, crops and livestock and understating the dangers of the chemicals (Lear 1992). The public reaction to Silent Spring was enormous and outraged. Carson charged the USDA with lack of oversight in their eradication campaigns, failure to provide adequate information to the public, showing virtually no concern for the protection of people or the environment, and for maintaining a very limited and chemical centered research agenda (not enough research on biological controls). There was also the implication that "the chemical industry had become the USDA's major constituency." (Lear 1992, 160) The USDA/ARS viewed Silent Spring as a public relations problem, but perhaps their biggest mistake in responding to Carson was their underestimation of the ability of the general population to understand and respond to scientific information.
25 The primar y tactic was to trivialize both Carson's claims and the dangers of pesticides. Carson and her supporters were waved off as "bird and bunny lovers" (a.k.a. environmentalists) who valued the well being of wildlife over the vitality of the food system and th e survival of mankind. The USDA emphasized that when used properly, agricultural chemicals were perfectly safe and any potential dangers were heavily outweighed by the dire consequences that would ensue if the use of these chemicals ceased. The USDA admi tted that chemicals could be dangerous in an attempt to portray Carson's claims as obvious and used it as a call for more research support. However, many independent reports verified Carson's claims. The Kennedy administration appointed a President's Sci ence Advisory Committee to review the possible dangers of agricultural chemicals and provide recommendations. This report largely backed Carson, stating that science was not yet adequate to determine the long term effects of pesticides and called for a re duction in use and more public education. This dynamic is highly indicative of the ongoing conflict between organic farming and the conventional agriculture establishment (Lear 1992). In 1966, a group called the Diggers began connecting activism, environ mentalism and food provision in an explicit way. Their message was rather bleak: environmental crises and political corruption would soon lead to the collapse of postindustrial society, and when it did, the food system would be decentralized, communal, an d organic. The Diggers provided free meals (with mostly "liberated" 8 components) and political literature to San Francisco's hungry freaks and hippies and eventually established a "free store" (window frames with no windows, "its free because its yours") and used a nearby 8 "Liberated" is a euphemism for stolen, often used by radical activists. Goods are typically liberated from places of centralized consumerism, such as chain stores, rather than individuals.
26 farm to grow organic vegetables for the store and meals. However, the Diggers were a little ahead of their time -the activist element was largely ignored or ill received and the group disbanded before the organic movement gained any real momentum. People's Park was arguably more successful if only because of the wider public attention it garnered. "On April 20, 1969, several hundred members of the ad hoc Robin Hood's Park Commission invaded an empty Berkeley lot owned by the University of California, planted vegetable seeds, trees, and sod, erected a striped swing set, picnic tables and benches, launched balloons, shared fruit, marijuana, and wine, danced to the country rock band Joy of Cooking, and cheered the new sign: PEOPLE'S PARK: POWER TO THE PEOPLE." (Belasco 2007, 19 20) The idea was to seize public land for the purpose of public food production -free food for anyone who chose to participate. Perhaps if people believed food should be free, and acted like it was free (in this t heatrical medium), economics would follow the new social facts. By May, Governor Ronald Reagan had called in the National Guard to forcibly disband People's Park, attracting national media coverage in the process. "The authorities' violent response to wha t seemed a harmless bid for green space mirrored both a long standing American disdain for nature and the current mass defoliation of Vietnam." (Belasco 2007, 21) People's Park represented radical decentralization and socialized food production, but it wa s also a model of the common human ability to grow one's own nourishment (Belasco 2007). Organic farming became the new front for the cultural revolution: a connection to the earth during a time of environmental crises, a rejection of consumerist society its poisonous food system, and a protest against the military industrial complex and the Vietnam War. The most radical course of action, then, would be to move out to the country and live a communal life by 1970 there were some 3,500 communes across the
27 country (Belasco 2007). Without any technical support, such as the extension services available for conventional farmers, and scarce research, communal (and for that matter, single family, business oriented) farmers relied on the teachings of Sir Albert Howard, J.I. Rodale's Organic Gardening & Farming magazine, and informal information sharing networks (Pollan 2006). The strong ideology of the radical communalists (which created difficulties in carrying out even simple, everyday tasks) and issues of lon g term interpersonal compatibility, are among some of the reasons why many communes ultimately failed (Belasco 2007). The farms that did survive were mostly independently owned (sometimes by ex communalists who wished to continue farming) and institutions developed to support organic farming through research and alternative food distribution systems (such as food buying cooperatives, or co ops). The New Alchemy Institute, founded in 1970 at Falmouth, Massachusetts by John Todd and William O. McLarney, was dedicated to the development of appropriate agricultural technology. Predicting ecological disaster and famine should the conventional model of agriculture continue, the New Alchemists focused their considerable efforts on inexpensive, human scale techno logies such as solar energy, aquaculture and efficient production of compost. "They pioneered the biosphere concept' as well, building several self sustaining Arks.'" (Beeman and Pritchard 2001, 108) The Land Institute was founded in 1976 in Salinas, K ansas by Wes Jackson who was and remains an important public figure in the sustainable agriculture movement. The Institute focused on a system of agriculture called perennial polyculture in which several crops are grown in the same field, many or all of t hem perennials (life cycle spanning
28 more than two years). This system uses the natural plains ecology as a model for low impact, resilient and cost effective food production. By the early 1990s, the Institute boasted a 275 acre teaching and research farm with a $350,000 annual budget, cooperative ties with Kansas State University, and a quarterly research publication, the Land Report. The farm is also involved in public outreach, offering workshops and tours, as well as hosting community and cultural eve nts such as dances and an annual Prairie Festival (Beeman and Pritchard 2001). Jackson's contributions to the sustainable agriculture movement went beyond his work at the Land Institute. He was also a professor, writer and commercial farmer. Leaving hi s post as the chair of one of the country's first environmental studies programs at California State University, he returned to his hometown of Salinas to start his own farm in addition to the Land Institute. His commercial farm, producing mainly grain cr ops for European markets, was notable for its complex rotational system and long term planning. Though ostensibly not part of the counterculture, he was still an outspoken critic of the USDA and the agricultural establishment. Calling the USDA "self sat isfied," Jackson lamented the wasted potential of the federal government as an agent of change, both to reverse the trend of rural depopulation and to foster the development and widespread implementation of efficient, ecologically sensitive agriculture. T wo of the issues preventing significant shifts in policy, according to Jackson, were a continued focus on the "one shot big solution," and a reliance on an "extractive economy" (whereby we consume without producing, or more specifically, we use the soil re sources without replenishing them). He even had a response to the classic establishment argument that only industrial agriculture could food the starving multitudes: we must acknowledge that
29 the world is uneven, that we cannot solve global problems with g lobal solutions, only by using small scales and developing solutions particular to place (MacLean 1990). One of the most important voices of organic farming was that of Wendell Berry his book, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture (publishe d in 1977) is part of the (unofficial) canonical literature of the organic movement. Berry asserted that many of the problems of American agriculture were based in depravations of American culture. Americans had come to rely on electric energy rather th an human energy, without taking time to notice where that energy came from or how much of it the earth can supply. The luxury of electric energy allowed the vast majority of the population to move off the farm, but unlike proponents of conventional agricu lture, Berry sees this as detracting from rather than increasing quality of life. To become a specialist, to be able to do only one thing, is unhealthy for the individual and society (Berry 1977). Berry's agrarian ideal was much closer to Thomas Jefferso n's than that of the Diggers or communalists farmers were independent businesspersons rather than anti capitalists but the ideals and radical underpinnings of the organic movement were still fairly consistent. While hippies and environmentalists were pass ionate detractors of industrial agriculture, the "establishment" the USDA, land grant schools, and agribusiness interests were its most ardent supporters. During the Nixon administration, Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz was a very public, highly quotab le figure that pushed for further industrialization of agriculture while harshly attacking organic agriculture. Under his direction, commodity price supports were at their highest levels yet and export markets were emphasized to raise prices. Farmers too k his advice to "get big or get out" to
30 heart in the early 1970s, farm incomes and land values rose rapidly and farmers borrowed against their overvalued land to expand and intensify their operations (more land, bigger machines, more chemicals) (Beeman and Pritchard 2001). Butz also made a point of debasing organic agriculture by using the familiar tactics of oversimplifying methods and dramatizing the consequences of a wholesale shift to organic agriculture. One of his most famous quotes demonstrates the se tactics well: "Without the modern input of chemicals, of pesticides, of antibiotics, we simply could not do the job. Before we go back to organic agriculture in this country, somebody must decide which 50 million Americans are going to starve or go hun gry." (Belasco 2007, 119) By the late 1970s, the export market crashed as worldwide production increased, leaving American farmers to suffer "the worst economic downturn since the 1930s." (Beeman and Pritchard 2001, 136) Farmland values plummeted 63% in just five years while average net farm income (in Iowa) went from $17,000 per year down to negative $1,900 between 1981 and 1983. This economic disaster represented an opportunity for organic agriculture to make its case as a viable, even preferable alter native to conventional agriculture. Farmers lost trust in the agricultural establishment because the advice offered, whether from the land grant universities or the USDA, was obviously short sighted, ill conceived and far removed from the experience of mo st farmers. "Because many small scale and more old fashioned' farmers seemed to survive the economic crisis better than the large scale farmers, the farm crisis of the 1980s also seemed to indicate that bigger and more key words in the establishment lex icon did not always translate into best ." (Beeman and Pritchard 2001, 137) The energy crisis of the 1970s also pushed farmers to seek out ways to cut costs, which often meant reduced
31 chemical inputs (which require fossil fuels for production) and revertin g to smaller machinery (Beeman and Pritchard 2001). Mainstream Markets and Certification Programs Meanwhile, the market for organic foods was expanding enough for farmers to establish the first certification program. First initiated by Rodale, Inc. (publ ishers of the immensely popular Organic Gardening magazine), the program quickly became California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) in 1973, owing to the fact that most members farmed in California. It made sense that demand for organic foods was high in C alifornia because of its long history as a major producer of specialty crops (fresh fruits and vegetables) and as a primary center of the counterculture and the environmental movement. The original members of CCOF were largely constituents of the counterc ulture of organic farming; their liberal, sometimes radical attitudes were fairly effective at discouraging more conservative, conventional farmers from seeking out certification. Hard and fast rules and criteria were few 9 certifiers relied on their exper ience of organic farming ("you know it when you see it") to guide their decision making (Guthman 2004). Potential economic gains enticed more farmers to switch to organic systems, and as the market expanded, so did the availability of manufactured organi c inputs. The CCOF finally adopted a materials list in the 1980s, and the attendant problems of oversimplification and failure to adopt organic values among new entrants became apparent. As the list of allowed, regulated and restricted materials became l onger and more detailed, systems requirements were pushed to the margins and it became easier for new entrants to simply replace conventional inputs with organic ones. Although CCOF 9 So few that the entirety of the certification criteria fit on a single page.
32 had process certification criteria to discourage simple input replacement (long term farm plans, crop rotation and soil building, etc.), record keeping focused on inputs. Further, the farm plan component was decidedly insufficient: it was not only prone to inspector subjectivity, it was easily made useless by retaining the sam e plan year after year, so a farmer can meet "goals" without making any improvements (Guthman 2004). Paradoxically, the codification of organic farming, meant to limit entry and protect the term "organically grown" in markets, actually increased entry and encouraged the incorporation of industrial practices. The niche market and corresponding price premiums drove many farmers struggling with high input costs and low prices to convert to organic production, thereby increasing entry rather than barring it. As the market became larger and more competitive, valorization 10 and increasing land values motivated farmers to eliminate integral practices (such as cover cropping and fallowing) to reap as much from their land as possible. Codification requires the sac rifice of certain goals for others. In the case of organic certification, virtually all of the sacrifices fall on the side of the distinctly broader, alternative goals for the sake of technical specificity and economic advantages (Guthman 2004). Organic food began to shed its countercultural and "health food nut" stigmas during the 1980s, in large part thanks to famous chefs like Alice Waters. In her Berkeley, California restaurant, Chez Panisse, local and organic produce was the centerpiece of the cuis ine. Among hip, young urban professionals (yuppies), organic foods became a luxury good, gourmet eats and a status symbol. These new consumers required only a 10 Valorization is a cyclical process by which a farmer captu res a new market through innovation (usually by figuring out how to grow an exotic crop with a high demand) and is able to turn a large profit. Other farmers eventually adopt the innovation to take advantage of the price premiums until the market is satur ated and the prices drop.
33 recognizable organic label guaranteeing that the food was not produced with conventional agricu ltural chemicals and were not particularly concerned with more ideological aspects of organic farming such as soil building, decentralized food provision, and social justice (Guthman 2004). The simplified version of organic farming (lack of chemicals and spacey nature freaks) that the establishment used as ammunition was nearly the same version that drew in the yuppie consumer (Belasco 2007). As organic foods found their way into the mainstream and out of the co ops, many economically savvy farmers adjust ed their operations to integrate into the established food system and the marketplace soon saw organic food products that were thought to be antithetical to the movement ideals: microwave dinners and organic brands belonging to corporate food companies (Po llan 2006). Establishment Backlash and Co optation The mainstreaming of organic farming and foods in the marketplace was concurrent with both a backlash from the establishment and more support for environmental programs in federal farm legislation. Tra ditionally, "farm programs have supported farm incomes by dealing with frequent crop surpluses...(while) programs which address environmental problems...operate as if food was scarce." (273) Farm programs remained essentially unchanged since the 1930s, us ing financial incentives to get farmers to retire land and control overproduction that removing land from crop production reduced soil erosion and improved water quality was incidental. The lands targeted in these programs were also not very prone to eros ion, so these improvements were marginal at best (Ogg 1992). The National Agricultural Lands Study was conducted as a stipulation of the 1977 Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act and was the first survey of soil erosion of the nation's farmland since 1934. The Study
34 concluded that soil erosion remained a serious problems, with rates as high or higher than in the Dust Bowl period of the 1930s (Beeman and Pritchard 2001). Just two years later, Carter's Secretary of Agriculture, Bob Bergland, charged t he USDA's Science and Education Administration with conducting a study on organic farming. The resulting report, "Report and Recommendations on Organic Farming" (1980), was applauded by the organic farming community while harshly attacked by the conventio nal agriculture establishment (Youngberg, Schaller, and Merrigan 1993). Bergland created an organic farming coordinator position in the USDA and appointed the director of the report, Garth Youngberg (Beeman and Pritchard 2001). Even though the report use d scientific methods and did not call for the complete abolition of chemicals, the cultural perception of organic farming precluded the possibility of legitimacy in the eyes of the establishment. Organic farming still represented a backwards, scientifical ly unfounded method of production practiced by people who were hippies, political radicals, or nostalgic idealists (Youngberg, Schaller, and Merrigan 1993). 11 The position of organic farming coordinator was quickly eliminated by the incoming Reagan adminis tration (Beeman and Pritchard 2001). Despite recent concessions from establishment proponents that conventional agriculture did have some harmful, unanticipated consequences, it was clear that they were not willing to concede that organic agriculture got some things right, much less grant the organic farming community any share of political influence (Youngberg, Schaller, and Merrigan 1993). "Judged by the scale and seriousness of their response to the new farming...opponents of sustainable agriculture sa w a direct threat to their way of 11 See Appendix I for Congressional testimony that exemplifies this condescending opinion of organic agriculture.
35 life and to the food production system they had known throughout their careers." (Beeman and Pritchard 2001, 145) The soil erosion problem was dismissed as an overblown reaction fueled by environmentalists and traitor sci entists, something that could be easily compensated for through technological improvements. The chemical industry in particular stepped up the defense of their products. Through more support for pro chemical research, extensive consumer awareness campaig ns, and political lobbying, chemical companies portrayed their products as vital to maintaining the healthy quality of life Americans enjoy, and perhaps more importantly, the position of the United States as the world's most powerful economy (Beeman and Pr itchard 2001). Starting around the mid 1980s, each of the opposing teams adopted strategies that somewhat softened their positions and muddled the lines dividing them (at least superficially). In 1982, two bills were created in Congress that would have f ormalized a research agenda and support system for organic farming: the Innovative Farming Act and the Organic Farming Act in the House and Senate respectively. Both bills were shot down. In an attempt to shed the "negative symbolism" of organic farming, proponents began trying out new words to assign to the techniques and goals of organic farming. Wes Jackson adopted "ecological" while Rodale used "regenerative." However, "sustainable" is the term that stuck, replacing the negative symbolism of organic farming with a powerful symbolism of sustainable agriculture as the future of farming that would ensure a healthy environment and a reliable, adequate food production system. This strategy was successful in many ways: sustainable agriculture programs pro liferated in the land grant universities, scientists turned more attention to alternative farming
36 methods, and political support was more common (Youngberg, Schaller, and Merrigan 1993). The establishment took advantage of the novel and as yet firmly defi ned terminology in an attempt to borrow some rhetoric from organic agriculture without any of the substance (co option). According to the establishment, sustainability was chiefly defined by economic viability and only secondarily about environmental stew ardship. The establishment version of sustainable agriculture "avoided the ecological issues of soil productivity and chemical use, and deftly skirted issues of corporate centralization in agriculture." (Beeman and Pritchard 2001, 148) Equipment and chem ical manufacturers adjusted their advertising to express environmental concern and show how their products could address the needs of sustainable agriculture. A legion of chemical manufacturers (Dow, Mobay, CIBA GEIGY, and DuPont, among others) funded the founding of the "independent" organization Alliance for a Clean Rural Environment, whose purpose was to compile information and help farmers use chemicals responsibly. Another organization backed by chemical companies, the nonprofit Foodwatch, was founde d in 1990 with a stated agenda to promote a safe, equitable, and abundant food supply (Beeman and Pritchard 2001). The confusion of terms and definitions made it difficult for policy makers to decipher real sustainability efforts, but the popularity of th e idea compelled policy makers to approve anything claiming to be in support of sustainable agriculture. The 1985 farm bill, the Food Security Act, was the first to incorporate considerable environmental provisions. The land Conservation Reserve Program was established to diminish incentives to grow intensive row crops on highly erodible lands, including
37 prairies and wetlands. Farmers were required to develop an soil conservation plan if they wanted to cultivate these lands, or else lose their eligibilit y for other farm programs. There was also a title for Agricultural Productivity Research, but the language of the title carefully avoided terms like organic and sustainable; by the time it was implemented, this title would become the Low Input Sustainable Agriculture (LISA) program (Youngberg, Schaller, and Merrigan 1993). Conclusion From a politically subversive movement of hippies and back to the land radicals, organic farming became a real, if small, threat to the agricultural status quo. The movement was able to find its way into the mainstream because of the cracks in the establishment foundation. The unintended, harmful consequences of industrial farming were unavoidable and sometimes highly publicized, leading many otherwise disconnected consumers to question the safety of the food supply. The more support organic farming received from non rural constituents, the more attention had to be paid by policy makers. By the late 1980s, organic farming had also proved to be not just economically viable, but profitable, with a rapidly growing and maturing industry. As the agency responsible for supporting and regulating agriculture, the USDA would inevitably have to deal with organic agriculture directly. The call for nationally unified and federally reg ulated organic standards required the acknowledgement of "organic," not "sustainable" or "ecological," farming as a significant and legitimate sector of American agriculture.
38 Chapter Three: National Standards and the Political Dynamics Between the Federal Government and the Organic Farming Movement As the organic farming movement grew and came into the mainstream throughout the 1980s, so too did the organic foods industry. Though the industry was a small part of the overall food market (about 2%), organi c farmers were able to command a price premium for their products and do something their conventional colleagues had been struggling to do for decades: make a profit, however modest, without federal assistance. This premium, often 100% or more over conven tional products, attracted unscrupulous producers and processors who labeled their products as organic without modifying their conventional practices (Fromartz 2006). Organic products found their way into traditional commercial distribution channels, and consumers needed some assurance that what they were buying was genuinely organic. A number of organic certification agencies, both private and State sponsored, were operating around the country to help protect both consumers seeking organic products and p roducers legitimately using organic methods. However, many of these certification programs had sufficiently disparate standards that made interstate trade difficult and likewise added to the source of confusion for consumers. Weak state legislation and p rivate certifiers had little means of enforcing standards and punishing fraud. The proposed solution was a national unified standard. In 1989, representatives of the organic industry began lobbying Congress to add legislation to the 1990 Farm Bill, the F ood, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act (FACTA). Proponents of the national standard believed that such a measure would facilitate trade across states and overseas, expand markets for organic farmers, and bring
39 organic foods further into the mainstr eam (Fishman 1990). Producers, handlers and processors were not the only constituents of the organic movement who were supportive of the proposed legislation environmental groups, consumer organizations, and even public health organizations offered suppor tive testimony to Congress during all stages of the legislative process. The authors and supporters of the proposed legislation envisioned a public private partnership that would maintain an organic standard everyone could stand behind. Although the appr opriate agency to oversee the new National Organic Program (NOP) seemed to be the USDA, it had been propagating exactly the type of agriculture that the organic movement seeks to rectify. The USDA has long been the target of very harsh criticism by organi c advocates, and is the keystone entity in the centralized food system. The USDA ignored organic agriculture when possible and soundly denounced it when it had to be addressed, or otherwise neutered terms and ideas from the movement through co optation (B eeman and Pritchard 2001). The USDA also spends the majority of its vast budget on supporting the centralized, conventional food system, which includes convincing the American public and overseas trade partners that such a food system is profitable, neces sary, and perfectly safe (Imhoff 2007, U.S. House 1990). Why would the USDA have any interest in supporting the organic food industry, much less upholding an organic standard that inherently condemns so many of the methods the USDA espouses? How could th e organic farming movement trust the USDA to fairly administer the program? With two competing entities controlling the program, how would consumers know what they were buying? The ensuing conflict in the creation and administration of the national stand ards was predetermined.
40 The USDA clearly opposed the National Organic Program from its inception (U.S. House 1990). Without a strong national coalition that incorporated many varied interests farmers, retailers, processors, and environmentalists, animal rights advocates, consumers, and scientists it seems unlikely that the program would have survived the legislative process intact. The strength of that coalition and the personal and economic investment its constituents felt in the integrity of the organi c standards must have been somewhat surprising to the USDA and its traditional constituents, who were accustomed to political obscurity and opaque ways of doing business. The legislation, the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), did get through Congress a nd was passed into law in 1990 as part of the Farm Bill. Negotiating the legislation turned out to be one of the lesser struggles between the organic movement and the USDA after 12 years and a number of false starts, the program was finally launched. T he implementation of the program in 2002 was closely followed by a lawsuit that claimed that the USDA failed to abide by the original language and intentions of the OFPA. Most recently, a long standing point of contention regarding livestock living condit ions has been amended to reflect the principles of organic farming and the expectations of organic consumers. The movement has had to closely monitor the state of the organic standards to ensure ongoing integrity, or at the very least, prevent significant degradation. So far, the organic farming movement and the USDA have been keeping each other on their figurative toes. Farm Bills, Alternative Agriculture and Environmental Interests Every five to seven years, Congress passes a new Farm Bill, a huge pie ce of legislation that currently averages an annual budget near $90 billion (Imhoff 2007). The
41 programs funded through the Farm Bill overwhelmingly support conventional agriculture through subsidies, research, extension and marketing. Although each has i ts own title, much of the bill simply reaffirms existing programs. Farm Bill programs (in particular subsidies) have been criticized for supporting an agricultural industry that is questionably stable and causes pervasive environmental destruction (Imhoff 2007). Price supports reward overproduction of certain commodities by distributing funds according to the amount produced, and penalizing participating farmers for growing fresh produce. Subsidies depress market prices, which push farmers to expand by e xtending credit lines and buying out failing neighbors. Apart from starting the treadmill effect of mechanization, specialization and intensive chemical use, subsidies prevent any sort of free or fair market, both domestically and internationally (Pollan 2007). The farm bill also dictates, rather comprehensively, what sort of food is most abundant and cheap. Just five commodities corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton are so heavily subsidized, with about $25 billion each year, that market prices are oft en less than the cost of production. This system gives the food processing and meat production industries a ready supply of cheap calories, primarily fat from soybeans and sugar from corn. This is what makes confined animal feedlot operations (CAFOs) pro fitable, and why corn syrup and other heavily processed byproducts are in nearly every packaged food in the grocery store (Pollan 2007). Whole foods (foods that are eaten with little or no processing), such as fruits and vegetables, are considered "specia lty crops" and do not qualify for subsidies. Three out of five farmers receive absolutely no subsidy payment, while the wealthiest 5% receive an average of $470,000 each (Imhoff 2007). Subsidy programs not only strain small U.S. farmers, they also under cut farmers in
42 developing countries. In Mexico, where corn is a staple crop, subsidized corn from the U.S. has displaced two million Mexican farmers and agricultural workers since the mid 1990s. Now without a substantial domestic supply, Mexico is suffer ing from high corn prices as a result of the ethanol boom. In 2004, the World Trade Organization ruled that U.S. cotton subsidies are illegal (Pollan 2007). The USDA is in a unique position to administer environmental conservation programs because of the indirect influence exerted over most of the country's private lands. Farmers own a sizable portion of the country's private land. Even if the government could reasonably buy and manage large tracts of land, ecosystems are not often neatly contained with in blocks of land but interconnected in networks that can span hundreds of miles. By incentivizing conservation practices on marginal and ecologically sensitive lands, the USDA can administer environmental programs that keep productive land in use and avo id excessive government oversight. The catch is that conservation programs typically end up with less than 10% of the farm bill budget, while the other 90% is largely dedicated to supporting conventional agriculture with all the attendant environmental pr oblems (Imhoff 2007). There is hardly any middle ground no programs that incorporate conservation practices into production practices, no disincentives for especially destructive practices, basically, no comprehensive environmental agricultural agenda. A s Daniel Imhoff puts it, "Farm Bill conservation programs seem more like a distraction than a coordinated national stewardship strategy." (Imhoff 2007, 129) The conservation programs are concessions to appease environmental interest groups and their budg ets and parameters are typically made very limited by the end of the
43 legislative process. The Conservation Security Program (CSP), established in 2002, focused on reduced chemical use, protection of wildlife habitats, and preventing waterway pollution. F armers in all watersheds in all parts of the country were supposed to be eligible for the program rewards and funding was written into the bill as "mandatory." After going through the Congressional agricultural appropriations committee, the scope of the p rogram was restricted to a very few particular watersheds. The budget was cut by 82.5% of the original promised amount. The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) shares many of the goals of the CSP with a greater focus on marginal wetlands, and has been a relat ive success story. The WRP has used permanent and long term easements to restore about 2 million acres of delicate aquatic ecosystems. While 2 million sounds impressive, an average 50,000 acres of wetlands have been converted to agricultural production e very year since the 1950s. That is, agricultural production that the USDA supports with the bulk of the farm bill budget (Imhoff 2007). The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) was supposed to help farmers transition into environmental steward ship practices. One problem with EQIP is that farmers who have already been practicing environmental stewardship are ineligible. The greater problem is that Confinement Animal Feedlot Operations (CAFOs) were eligible to receive up to $450,000 or 75% of c onstruction costs to install waste storage facilities. These manure lagoons are simply large, man made lakes that hold all of the fecal matter that is washed out of the CAFO. Manure lagoons are known to leak into watersheds and pollute groundwater, or ru noff into waterways, making those environments unlivable. Moreover, CAFOs are already required by the USDA to install manure lagoons EQUIP is using taxpayer money to help them meet those requirements.
44 In the end, large amounts of program funds are being funneled away from small and independent farmers that might actually put the money towards its intended use (Imhoff 2007). Appropriations committees were also able to move back the implementation date of the mandatory Country of Origin Labeling program (C OOL) from September 2004 to September 2008. The COOL program is meant to increase transparency in an otherwise thoroughly opaque food system. Consumers would be able to make more informed choices about their food purchases by knowing in which country the ir food was produced. The meat industry in particular was concerned about this program: meat production is increasingly outsourced to developing countries where materials and labor are cheaper, and environmental regulations more lax. Producers expected t hat consumers will question the quality and safety of meat produced in other countries and opt to buy American produced meat instead, which is precisely the point. Three powerful organizations the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Pork Produ cers Council, and American Meat Institute were able to contribute generously to members of Congress belonging to agriculture appropriations committees (Imhoff 2007). Apparently the wishes of the industry were prioritized in return. The COOL program will go into effect on March 16, 2009, but with some important exemptions. Only meat products that are whole or ground need to be labeled, but products that are served in a restaurant or have undergone just about any processing do not. Hot dogs, marinated pro ducts, cooked products, breaded products, and foods in which meat is an ingredient, are just some of the examples of foods exempted under the COOL program ( www.countryoforiginlabel.org ). Federal support for research on organic farming was virtually non existent before
45 1988, when the Low Input Sustainable Agriculture (LISA) began funding independent projects. J. Patrick Madden, the founding director of the program, offers a concise agenda: "The primary g oal of the LISA Program was to develop and promote widespread adoption of more sustainable farming and ranching systems that will meet the food and fiber needs of the present while enhancing the ability of future generations to meet their needs and promoti ng quality of life for rural people and all of society." However noble (and vague) these goals sound, they are indirectly criticizing the dominant type of agriculture as not possessing these qualities or goals. In order to get the program through Congres s and approved by the USDA, its proponents had to carefully navigate a sensitive political landscape. The word "sustainable" was deliberately used to avoid the word "organic" because of its cultural connotations and association with strict chemical free p roduction. Sustainable was a more neutral term with a goal that would be difficult to argue against: the ability to sustain food production indefinitely (Madden 1998). The term "low input" was also a touchy subject, but the Congressional committees rev iewing the program were adamant about including it in the title. Again, low input was supposed to soften the perceived agenda of the program by suggesting that some inputs were acceptable or that the goal was not wholesale conversion of American farms to organic production. This attempt at neutral language did not satisfy either conventional or organic agriculture advocates. The first constituency claimed that even low input of chemicals would collapse the agrochemical industry and ensure mass starvation The latter constituency insisted that low input falsely suggested that some synthetic chemicals could be part of sound, sustainable agriculture practices, which was precisely the
46 intention. Backed by a couple of important national studies and a strong lobbying effort (both professional and grassroots), the program made it through Congress largely intact (Madden 1998). In order for LISA to become a permanent program, the Secretary of Agriculture had to sign an official policy statement. Paul O'Connell, then the Deputy Administrator of Cooperative State Research Service of the USDA, developed an enabling policy statement with other sympathetic USDA employees. According to Madden, "This statement was deliberately vague, intended to fly beneath the radar screen of antagonistic USDA officials, who almost certainly would have killed the document." O'Connell used his political knowledge and help from USDA officials to get around the formal review procedures, basically assuring that it would be signed without scrutiny. The statement, small and covert as it was, became the first document indicating the support of sustainable agriculture by the federal government. 12 The program is still operating and has since been renamed Sustainable Agriculture Research and E ducation (SARE). (Madden 1998) The USDA budget summary for 2008 provides a little perspective on the extent of support given to SARE. The SARE program is part of the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Services (CSREES), under the Agricu lture Research Service (ARS). CSREES takes up most of the ARS budget: $1.2 billion out of $1.3 billion. In 2006, SARE received $16 million, which is a promising raise from the original 1988 budget of $3.9 million, and even from the 1998 budget of $12 mil lion (Madden 1998). Another program called Organic Agriculture Research and Education Initiative, the only 12 See Appendix I
47 other program that specifically addresses organic agriculture, also received $3 million -the lowest of any other program (U.S. Department of Agricul ture 2008; see Appendix III). Together, these programs receive just 1.6% of the total budget for CSREES. Though it is an achievement that SARE continues after 20 years, the budget suggests that the USDA is not very serious about helping sustainable agric ulture practices become widespread. Shaping the National Organic Standard "Most industries tell Congress to get off their backs and out of their pocketbooks.' Today you have an industry sitting before you asking for your assistance in providing regulat ions that will guarantee the authenticity of organic products and protect the consumer. We want to do this at our own cost, with user fees, and a minimum of Federal participation. That alone should capture your attention." -Mark Retzloff, on behalf of t he Organic Food Alliance (now the Organic Trade Association) Although the modern organic movement had not formed a coherent national coalition, the disparate voices supporting the legislation were surprisingly unified. The director of Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, Ellen Haas, pointed out that the proposed legislation was "unusually supported by both the industry and consumer and environmental groups." (U.S. House 1990) The ability of these various groups to come together and defend the fledg ling program was instrumental in its adoption and level of integrity. Experience with organic agriculture, never mind a model for a workable certification program, was considerably lacking within both Congress and the USDA. Most of the struggle was provi ding a palatable definition of organic that could somehow sidestep implicit criticisms of conventional agriculture without being oversimplified and meaningless.
48 Organic farmers made up perhaps the most salient constituency of this piecemeal coalition, alo ng with handlers, processors, and retailers of organic foods. Although the legislation was intended to protect farmers, not all farmers were in favor of a national standard, or certification in general. Small farmers utilizing direct markets saw little need for certification programs, instead labeling it a tool for big industry businesses that did not represent the ideals of organic agriculture. Indeed, it was the industry that initially led the campaign for a national standard. Though some may have f elt that those in the industry did not have the same interests and values as those in the movement, they were able to present evidence of the growing markets for organic food that was likely more compelling for Congresspersons than arguments about consumer protection. Mark Retzloff (of the Organic Food Alliance, an industry organization) was often present at Congressional hearings, and argued that the organic industry was a mature one, with a proven market full of products similar to the conventional marke t. He cited the organic product lines of well known food processing companies such as Dole and Smucker's as further evidence that "The organic industry is mainstream America." (U.S. House 1990) Even wholesalers and retailers who mostly dealt with convent ional foods were in favor of the standards. They had seen a growing market for organic food and wanted to be able to assure customers that the products they offered were truly organic. The problem with the testimony of all these industry representatives is that they often struggled to provide a workable definition of organic agriculture. Regardless, few seemed concerned that a definition and functional program would be overly difficult to achieve: "The remarkable thing about the organic industry is that we do not just have one commodity, but thousands of products, and yet our areas of agreement are so
49 broad. So do not buy into the argument that just because we do not all agree on every line of a bill, that somehow the industry is not ready for national l egislation." (U.S. House 1990) Environmental and public health groups also had some stake in the organic standards. Nearly every Farm Bill since the 1980s has had some sort of concessionary program for environmentalists. The NOP was an unusual, if perh aps unintentional, hybrid of other USDA programs: it was ostensibly a marketing program (much like the ones already in place for beef), but it could also be effective as an environmental program because of the ideological tenets of organic farming. This w as a program that was supposed to be largely self funded by those who would use it, circumventing problems of flat funding during the appropriations process. Ideally, the program would encourage the expansion of organic production while upholding strong e nvironmental ideals. Public health advocates supported the expansion of a market that focused on wholesome foods (vegetables, fruits, minimal processing, etc.) and reduced exposure to pesticide residues, artificial hormones, antibiotics, and other convent ional agricultural inputs. Consumers also played a large role in the development of the legislation, though more indirectly through representative organizations and as the primary beneficiaries of the national standards. To avoid the contentious area of food safety implications of organic versus conventional foods, proponents of the national program asserted that certification was necessary to provide consumers with the products they demanded while improving confidence in the integrity of those products. Boyd E. Wolff (National Association of State Departments of Agriculture) warned that "the credibility of food production agencies, particularly at the Federal level, has been shaken... USDA, FDA, and EPA, as well as the States must realize that they ho ld a public trust. Our credibility as regulators is crucial." (U.S. House 1990)
50 Representatives of both the industry and Congress were quick to trivialize consumers' belief that organic food was significantly different from, or more importantly, better than conventional food. Congressman de la Garza (Rep. TX) captured the general sentiment well when he said, "Its [sic] the consumer's business if they want to have something that they feel is organic ." (emphasis added) There was also a noticeable effort to applaud the safety and impressive abundance of the U.S. food supply. The USDA, FDA, and EPA had existing "standards for all food and crop protection chemicals [to] provide those [safety] assurances to the consumers." (Stephen J. George, American Farm B ureau Federation) Congressman Charles Stenholm questioned "whether or not the consumer is really and truly interested in whether or not they're going to get a little bit of scientifically proven nonharmful [sic] poison" on their food. (U.S. House 1990) No one pointed out that if consumers found Federal standards to be adequate and the food supply to be safe, there would be no demand for organic food, much less a national program to protect the industry. The testimony of one witness, Deborah L. Hammel o f Scientific Certification Systems, Inc., was remarkably different from the rest because of her assertions that organic standards should maintain the superiority of organic foods: "After careful review, our conclusion is that, while well intentioned, th is legislation falls far short of its goal of establishing clear standards by which to evaluate or certify organic food...it becomes clear that this bill lacks the critical foundations in terms of either standards or enforcement to assure the public that o rganic food represents anything significantly different than, or superior to, conventional food. ..The Secretary of Agriculture can hardly do otherwise. To set alternative standards could cause conflict and confusion. Hence, organic food under this bill w ill not offer the public a s ignificant benefit over conventional food in terms of residue reduction. ..and the consumer will gain no added assurance from their purchases of organic products...consumers should not be asked to pay premiums for organic if the standards do not clearly certify that organic products
51 are significantly cleaner than or superior to conventional food. (emphasis added) Hammel not only refused to take a neutral stance on the intentions and benefits of organic agriculture, she directl y challenged the ability of the USDA to administer a successful certification program. Rather than belittle the intelligence of the common consumer, she insisted that nothing but a meaningful and substantive program would be successful. Hammel was in tur n questioned about her "strikingly different" testimony by Congressman Charles Hatcher (Rep. GA): "I was interested in your comment toward the end of your testimony that the consumer should not pay or that we should not allow the consumer to pay, or whate ver more for something labeled organic unless its shown that that is safer or better in some other way. That seems to be contrary to some of the other testimony as well. Some of the other witnesses seems to say, Give the consumer what the consumer wants If the consumer wants something called organic and you can define it, then they ought to have the opportunity to buy that whether it's better or not.' What's your view on that?" Hammel was not timid in clarifying consumer expectations: "From the co nsumer's perspective, they expect organic products to be two things. They expect them to have been grown in an environmentally responsible manner using sustainable methods, and they expect that product, when it's on their table, to not contain any residue s, whether they be synthetic or naturally derived." (U.S. House 1990) In the attempt to avoid the food safety issues and implicit criticisms of conventional agriculture, finding an agreeable definition proved to be fairly difficult. Part of the problem may simply have been a disconnect between terms used to describe conventional agriculture (i.e. technical, reductionist) versus organic agriculture (i.e. concepts, holism). So even when Ellen Haas offered a fairly thorough definition, "Organically grown food is food that is produced and handled through practices that conserve natural resources and promote biological relationships in farming...through the use of naturally derived agricultural materials, and without the use of synthetic pesticides and othe r chemicals" (U.S. House 1990)
52 Congressman Emerson was "still troubled by the lack of definition." Of course, the USDA itself had an official definition of organic farming as a part of the 1980 Report on Organic Farming, which was pointed out by Fred Kir schenmann (farmer, Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society) and still considered "a good general working definition." (U.S. House 1990) The search for a definition was also being used as an excuse to delay the program while the USDA conducted more research, which disregarded the many examples of successful certification programs already in place, and that extensive report released in 1980. The clear positioning of the USDA as a supporter of conventional agriculture means that the agency had very l ittle experience with organic agriculture (Youngberg et al. 1997). This lack of knowledge, combined with the assumption that the primary impetus for buying organic food was concern over agricultural chemicals, led to a simplification of organic agricultur e as merely the absence of chemicals in production practices. Congressman Bill Emerson questioned "how you can have an organic cow that would survive...it seems today that it would be impossible to raise animals without the use of some synthetic drugs, pa rticularly therapeutic doses of antibiotics." (U.S. House 1990) That the entire process of raising a cow is different in an organic operation versus a conventional feedlot operation was out of the scope of experience for both the USDA and most members of Congress. Proceeding with such a simplified and inaccurate definition of organic farming in developing national standards expands the opportunity for input substitution, without adopting any other significant principles that truly separate the two types o f agriculture.
53 Ideology v. Industry Self Preservation The push for a national standard demonstrated the willingness of a substantial part of the organic farming community to be subsumed under the USDA as a means of self preservation. The ideological pro blems with a national organic standard remained, and many within the movement were opposed to the legislation, and certification generally. One of the main principles of organic farming, and impediments to a unifying definition, is the adaptation of pract ices according to place. A national standard cannot, by principle, accommodate the variations in methods that should be happening on individual farms. A national standard is only needed in the instance of a national or international market. Ideally a farmer should sell directly to her customers, whether the customer is a retailer or a restaurant or an individual. The farmer shouldn't need to certify her farm, the argument goes, because her operation should be transparent to her customer. When the geo graphical distance between farmer and customer is relatively short, the energy saved provides further ecological benefit. Direct marketing is basic to organic farming because organic farming is supposed to be a real alternative to the conventional food sy stem. This includes operating out of the normal markets that promote physical as well as psychological distance from one's food. The proliferation of a national and international trade in organic foods was an indication for many that organic had lost at least some of its most important substance. The Act The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) was drafted by Senator Patrick Leahy (D NH) and his staff member Kathleen Merrigan, and passed into law on November 28 1990, as part of the Food, Agriculture, Cons ervation and Trade Act (FACTA). It
54 mandated the creation of the National Organic Program (NOP) as part of the Agricultural Marketing Service and is responsible for administering and enforcing the national standards. Overseen by the Secretary of Agricultu re, the NOP serves as the accrediting agent for all organic certifiers. The OFPA outlined basic guidelines for standards but specifics were to be based on the recommendations of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). It is the body that most fulfil ls the original intention to achieve a public private partnership, as all the members are not government employees. The composition of the Board members is intended to reflect the constituents of the organic industry and community: the fifteen member boar d must include four organic farmers, two handlers, one retailer, three environmental protection and resource conservation experts, three public and consumer interest group representatives, one ecology, toxicology or biochemistry expert, and a certifying ag ent accredited by the USDA (Fishman 1990). However, all the Board can do is recommend standards to the NOP and the Secretary. There is little direct recourse for alterations the Board considers inappropriate for organic production. The National List of Approved and Prohibited Substances -the complete list of any exceptions to the rule that natural materials are allowed and synthetic materials are prohibited is the significant and influential exception. While the Secretary is the ultimate authori ty over most of the regulations, control over the National List is squarely in the domain of the NOSB. The Secretary may remove items from the List, but not add them without approval of the Board; in other words, the Secretary may make the List stricter b ut not more lax. Still, it is the Secretary who appoints the NOSB members, who serve staggered 5 year terms. It is easy to appoint members who technically fulfill the required seats but are not necessarily representative of the core interests in the orga nic
55 farming community (DeLind 2000). The Cornucopia Institute, an organic policy watchdog organization, accused the Bush administration of failing to properly staff the NOSB to represent that majority of the organic food movement and industry. Controvers y and The Proposed Rules The timeline set forth in the OFPA mandated that the Secretary appoint the National Organic Standards Board within a year, finalize the standards, and start implementing the NOP by October 1993 (Fishman 1990). The actual timelin e was much more drawn out: the NOSB was not convened until 1992, their recommendations were submitted in 1995, and the USDA/NOP released the proposed rule for public comment in 1997. The proposed rule was a dramatic departure from the NOSB recommendations that would result in a thoroughly ineffective organic certification program. The organic farming community was instantly up in arms, calling its constituents to action by responding to the call for comments, which resulted in over 275,000 letters to the USDA expressing opposition to the proposed rule (Hornstein 2006). The outcry centered around "The Big Three": the allowance of genetically engineered organisms (GEOs), irradiation, and biosolids in organic production. The Big Three were just the most pro minent of a "fatally flawed" NOP that thematically undermined the power and position of the NOSB, minimized differences between acceptable conventional and organic materials, and impeded the model of a transparent, public private partnership (Youngberg et al. 1997). The inclusion of GEOs was arguably the most reactionary and publicized of The Big Three. The U.S. had taken a firm stance in trade negotiations with the European Union, insisting that GEOs were perfectly safe and should be allowed, unregulated in international trade. To exclude GEOs from the organic standards would create an
56 internal policy contradiction and potentially call into question the validity of the position the U.S. had taken in international trade policy (Hornstein 2006). On the o ther hand, organic farming ideology and environmentalism was squarely against GEOs. They were created to circumvent natural systems using a "single species, single trait" approach that is basically antithetical to the whole systems approach of organic far ming. Studies on the environmental effects of GEOs were highly mixed; using them would be far from ecologically cautious or reliable. Also, GEOs were banned from most existing U.S. organic standards and international standards, which would cause equivale ncy issues and fall far short of consumer expectations (Youngberg et al. 1997). The USDA had previously made explicit that "organic" is only a production claim and says nothing to the safety or quality of organic foods, especially compared to conventional foods. If this stance is maintained, organic standards should have been able to exclude GEOs without calling into question the safety of GEOs. More importantly, the OFPA classified GEOs as a synthetically produced material and as such is subject to appr oval by the NOSB on a case by case basis. Giving GEOs a blanket allowance in the standards was blatantly violating the terms of the OFPA and disregarding the power of the NOSB (Youngberg et al. 1997). Irradiation, or ionizing radiation, is the use of r adioactive isotopes to sanitize food and has been approved by the FDA, USDA, and various national and international health organizations. Conversely, some countries banned the importation of irradiated foods. All previously existing organic standards pro hibited irradiation and when put to vote in 1995, the NOSB unanimously voted against its use in organic operations. The organic industry had avoided food contamination effectively through modern sanitation
57 techniques and equipment. Besides being highly c apital intensive, irradiation is directly linked to the atomic energy and weaponry industries, an interdependency that directly conflicts with the organic movement's early antiwar roots. Even setting aside, again, ideological opposition and reasonable con cern, the FDA and Congress had classified irradiation as a food additive, placing it in the jurisdiction of the NOSB, not the USDA (Youngberg et al. 1997). An ideal urban rural partnership would include the recycling of waste and nutrients to create more closed systems. But biosolids, treated wastewater from urban and suburban sources, are potentially highly toxic and poorly regulated, resulting in a fertilizer that is questionable at best. Biosolids are tested for a very limited panel of pathogens and h eavy metals, leaving many materials that are banned in the U.S. undetected (Youngberg et al. 1997). There is no way of knowing what sort of harmful materials are in even the highest quality sludge, and in organic farming, there should be no "acceptable" l evel of contamination (Jackson 1990). If nothing else, this is again considered a synthetic material and therefore subject to NOSB approval, which it did not receive. There were numerous provisions that would have substantially weakened the National List and loosened requirements for other inputs that would make it easier for large scale farms to operate successfully. The NOSB was circumvented a number of times by exempting whole categories of chemicals from consideration for approval or by classifying s ome materials as processes or processing agents rather than chemical inputs. For example, the proposed rules allowed all synthetic processing materials already approved by the USDA and FDA. There were also a number of allowances for plant
58 stock (plants p urchased as seedlings rather than seeds) and breeder stock (livestock used for breeding) that were based entirely on commercial availability; the idea was that it would be difficult if not impossible to find adequate supplies that had been produced organic ally. If a species is not viable under organic production exceptions should not be made for it organic farmers must work within the constraints of their methods. Further, exceptions based solely on commercial availability (as opposed to emergencies) woul d weaken the development of the industry to supply its own needs (Youngberg et al. 1997). The proposed rules encouraged minimal effort rather than continued improvement in organic production and processing. Many of the annotations for material use on th e National List were not included in the proposed rules, which rather stated that the use of any material should not result in "measurable degradation." This is essentially an empty term measuring environmental degradation is not easy or workable for most producers or certifiers. Many existing certifying programs had an order of preference system that classified methods and materials on a scale from prohibited to restricted to approved. In order to use a restricted method or material, a producer or handl er must first consult with the certifying agent to determine if the practice is necessary. This system purportedly gave the producer incentive to incrementally improve her practices; in a system that merely differentiates between prohibited and approved, a producer can use mediocre practices indefinitely for sake of convenience or cost (Youngberg et al. 1997). The organic plan is one of the most important elements of the NOP, as it moved away from the materials oriented National List and is one of the fe w ways to check up on comprehensiveness and holism of the farming system. The OFPA specified operational elements to be addressed in the organic plan that were left out of the proposed rules, such
59 as soil management, crop rotation and nutrient recycling. The NOSB addressed the organic plan by composing an Organic Farm Plan and an Organic Handling Plan document, which were also left out of the proposed rules. The organic plan was and remains weak, largely due to the weakened definition of an organic produ ction system. The definition separated a farm from its environment and each farm component from the other, as if a farm could exist "in a vacuum," in much the same way conventional farms operate (Youngberg et al. 1997). As one of the more subjective elem ents of certification, the organic plan is often skimmed over producers or handlers can state that their plan includes "no change" and avoid the one major provision meant to encourage improved practices over time (Guthman 2004). Certifying agencies wer e denied some important authorities that were essential in effective NOP implementation. Giving greater consideration to the experienced state and private certification agents would help make the public/private partnership meaningful; certifiers should ha ve the power to terminate certification and be required to work with producers and handlers to develop their operations. Under the proposed rules, the Administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service was the only person with the power to terminate cert ification. The agent could only inform the operation that they are in violation and then submit a request for termination to the Administrator, who is in turn responsible for citing the violation to the operator and ultimately deciding whether to terminat e certification. This bureaucratic process allowed the questionable products to remain certified and in the market. At the very least, the certifiers should have the power to suspend operations throughout the review process (Youngberg et al. 1997). This provision was not amended in the final rules.
60 After the explosive reaction during the public comment period, the USDA reversed The Big Three from the final rules. Other provisions were also amended, such as the allowance of a certain percentage of non organic feed for livestock or the ability to acquire non organic plant stock or seeds. Clearly, the USDA underestimated the dedication of organic producers and consumers to the ideals of organic agriculture. Simply composing a National List while imbuin g the standards with conventional values and practices would not suffice. In 2002, after two more versions of the rules, the National Organic Program was finally implemented. However, the Big Three controversy was hardly the last between the USDA and the organic farming community. Harvey v. Veneman In October of 2002, a small farmer from Maine filed a lawsuit against the USDA, citing several instances of noncompliance with the OFPA in the Final Rules. Though the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine ruled in favor of the USDA, the First Circuit Court ruled in favor of Harvey on three counts. First, the Final Rules allowed the use of several "natural" ingredients in processed food bearing the USDA Organic label, in the case that these ingredien ts were not available in organic form commercially and without being subjected to the normal review process for exempted substances on the National List. Second, the above provision served as a blanket statement allowing for the ad hoc approval of essenti ally any synthetic processing ingredient. The third count was regarding a baffling provision that allowed producers converting entire dairy herds to use only 80% organic feed for the first 9 months of the requisite 1 year conversion period. Only in the f inal 3 months was a fully organic diet required, though the OFPA clearly states that dairy cows must be raised in compliance with organic regulations for one full
61 year before dairy products can be labeled organic (Rawson 2006). On June 9, 2005, the Court assigned the Secretary a two year period to address the rulings: the first year to change the regulations and another year to begin enforcement. Instead, the OFPA was amended to uphold the prerogative of the USDA during agricultural appropriations proceed ings for the 2006 fiscal year. The five natural (but not organic) agricultural products (kelp, gums, lecithin, cornstarch and pectin) specifically allowed in processing in the NOP rules were explicitly added as acceptable ingredients in foods labeled orga nic, as long as they did not make up more than 5% of the ingredients by weight. The Secretary was bestowed with the power to implement "emergency procedures" to add agricultural products to the National List when they are not commercially available in org anic form, for up to 12 months. The "emergency procedures" were not delineated in the amendment, giving the Secretary ultimate discretion in developing these procedures which function as an expedited petition process (Via 2006). The original ban on synt hetic substances in organic processing and handling was part of the conditions under which exempted materials could be used in processing and handling. The simple deletion of the words "and is non synthetic" from the phrase "used in handling and is non sy nthetic but is not organically produced" effectively mooted the Court's ruling. Consumer interest groups and some retail groups supported the Court's decision but were squarely against changing the OFPA to address the discrepancies. Upholding the OFPA b an on synthetic ingredients in processed foods and other strict provisions would maintain consumer trust in the meaning and integrity of the OFPA as originally intended. On the other side, the Organic Trade Association led a large group
62 of organic food pr ocessors in pushing Congress for legislative solutions to the court rulings. They insisted that the ban would have far reaching, deleterious consequences for the organic market and force hundreds of products off the shelves (Via 2006). The amendments ma de during appropriations favored the latter interest group. "The USDA determined that there was no need to revise [the sections] because Congress sufficiently addressed the contradiction and approved the necessary administrative changes." The regulations on dairy herds were also addressed by the appropriations act through an amendment that allowed farmers to use farm products or pasture as feed if their farm is in its third and final year of conversion to organic certification. While the feed would not b e certifiably organic, it would also not have any genetically modified components or other prohibited substances (Via 2006). Pasture Rule One of the most long standing battles between the USDA and the NOSB and organic farming advocacy groups is that of "access to pasture" for ruminant (grazing) livestock. The USDA for one reason or another continually shot down recommendations from the NOSB, which were largely supported by the organic farming community. The USDA's version of the rule has made it pos sible for large, high concentration dairy and meat operations to be certified organic, a veritable travesty to producers and consumers whose ideals were aligned with the organic movement. In the initial 1994 recommendations, the NOSB stipulated that lives tock living conditions should include "access to shade, shelter, fresh air, and daylight suitable to the species, the stage of production, the climate and the environment," as well as accommodate "the natural maintenance, comfort behaviors, and the opportu nity to exercise." The NOSB went on to
63 define "natural maintenance" as "the animal's ability to engage in natural activities including but not limited to lick, scratch, stretch, like down, stand up." (Federal Register 2008) Though these things seem prett y basic, CAFOs are notorious for preventing even these sorts of behaviors, and because CAFOs are the current standard for meat and dairy production in the United States, the organic standard must set itself up against the expectations of those operations. The first USDA/NOP proposed rule (December 1997), contained a provision for the restriction of space and outdoor access for animals under "necessary" conditions, as long as the animal's health could be maintained without the use of restricted drugs. The term "necessary" was to be determined by the producer, and approved by the certifier, in order to take into consideration how site specific conditions such as climate, location and "physical surroundings" could affect the availability of outdoor access. T his provision was crafted specifically to allow flexibility for producers to become certified organic even if they did not have the facilities to provide outdoor access or pasture. The following year, the NOSB reasserted its position on confinement and ca lled for the elimination of exceptions for large livestock concentrations. The USDA/NOP shot down these recommendations, citing a lack of definition or context for the phrase "large livestock concentration." (Federal Register 2008) For the last comment p eriod before the finalization of the rules (March 2000), there were many negative responses to the "access to pasture" language and other provisions for necessary and temporary confinement. According to this set of rules, lactation is a stage of productio n during which a dairy cow can be justifiably confined. Commentators, and the NOSB, pushed for a pasture based system for producing ruminant livestock, and
64 that simply allowing "access to pasture" did not accurately represent the mutually beneficial and e cologically sound relationship between ruminants and grazing land. Detractors claimed that such a system would be too prescriptive and inadaptable to many climate and environments, as well as an economic detriment to producers growing crops specifically f or livestock feed. In light of these concerns, and because no commentators could adequately define a pasture based system or explain how it would replace "access to pasture," the USDA retained the requirement in the final rules (December 2000). (Federal R egister 2008) The pasture based approach was nixed because it was, at the same time, too prescriptive and inadequately defined. The NOSB continually issued recommendations to change the language and otherwise strengthen the rule since the final rule was implemented in 2000, to no avail. It was not until April of 2006 that the NOP announced the opening of a comment period for a new proposed livestock rule. Again, constituents of the organic community were eager to be heard, and the NOP received over 80,5 00 comments from consumers, producers, certifying agents, trade associations, retailers, organic association, anima welfare organizations, consumer groups and various industry groups. Among tens of thousands of comments, 28 defended the existing pasture r equirements. Conversely, over 54,000 commentators made clear that they pay a premium for organic dairy because they expect the animals to be grazed on pasture. The commentators cited improved health of animals, soil and pasture, superior taste and nutrit ional value of milk, compliance with the original intentions of the OFPA, and consumer confidence in the USDA label, as compelling reasons to amend the pasture rule (Federal Register 2008). The impetus for finally addressing the pasture rule may have come from an ongoing
65 boycott on "fake" organic milk initiated in 2006 by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). The boycott targeted the two largest organic milk producers in the country: Horizon brand (owned by agribusiness giant Dean Foods) and Aurora Dai ry (the nation's largest supplier of private label organic milk to retailers such as Wal Mart, Costco, and Publix, among others). A report by the Cornucopia Institute showed that these companies were procuring milk from dairies with factory farm condition s, where thousands of cows were kept in confinement on feedlots with little to no access to pasture. Aurora was even buying replacement cows from conventional suppliers and possibly using non organic feed (Kastel 2006). The Institute filed a formal compl aint with the USDA against Aurora; the NOP investigated the dairy and issued a recommendation for decertification. Instead, the Bush administration allowed the company to continue to operate under a one year probation. Mark Kastel, co director of the Ins titute, condemned the USDA for "failing to fulfill their responsibilities designated by Congress and, more importantly, failing farmers and consumers." (Cornucopia Institute 2008) Though the boycott did not result in decertification of either company, it did go a long way in raising awareness and sending a message that people were paying attention. The new proposed rule was released on October 24, 2008 and generally well received by the organic farming community. The National Organic Coalition (a politic al action group representing organic farmers, consumers and environmentalists) described the rule as "a strong proposal that guarantees that organic milk production meets consumer expectations." Still, the NOC issued an action alert to submit final commen ts expressing support for certain measures and calling for alteration of others. Some of the
66 favorable components include a minimum number of grazing days and percentage of pasture as feed requirement. The most substantial criticism from multiple organiz ations was regarding excessive record keeping requirements (National Organic Coalition 2008). Overall, there seems to be reserved optimism in the organic farming community that the new rule is an important step toward eliminating weaknesses in the stand ards, in particular, weaknesses that make it easier for corporate farms to be certified. Revisions such as these could also potentially limit the size of a workable organic farm. Insofar as fundamental tenets are being adhered to, these are necessary lim itations. The difficulty of pinning down the most important (but frequently open ended) aspects of organic farming in a way that is both objectively enforceable and flexible enough to allow for local adaptation has led to a shift in focus toward inputs an d other technicalities. This problem is largely practical national certification is still relatively new and with careful reflection and fair representation on the NOSB, the rules can continue to evolve in ways that make it both more enforceable and truer to the organic movement.
67 Chapter Four: Implications and Conclusion The USDA was at once the worst federal government agency to administer the NOP and the only real option. The NOP is the culmination of the historical tension between organic and establis hment agriculture. With a considerable power over the legitimacy of the word "organic," the USDA has seized the opportunity to neuter and co op the ideas of the organic farming movement in a way that was not possible previously. The USDA wields a great d eal of power over the country's food system. By controlling the definition of "organic" through the NOP, the USDA can determine the integrity and public face of organic food. The weaknesses of the NOP have in turn weakened the organic movement, or at lea st, the public perception of the organic movement. As long as the USDA remains entrenched in the dominant agricultural paradigm, the incentive to undermine the organic standards will also remain. Diminishing the differences between organic and conventi onal serves two purposes: first, it reduces internal policy contradictions and second, it promotes the perception that conventional materials and methods are perfectly safe and environmentally benign (and by implication that organic farming is in no way su perior). To uphold organic standards would not be the only set of contradictory policies the conservation programs discussed previously are a perfect example. The crucial difference is that though the conservation programs are typically short changed, ob jecting to such a widely supported goal as environmental protection would be political suicide. Also, while the conservation programs end up attempting to reverse agricultural damage, there is no reference to or inherent criticism of conventional practice s. Perhaps influenced by the conservative Bush administration and Congress, the USDA could not put aside its ties to agribusiness or adjust its position on
68 conventional agriculture in order to properly administer a program meant to serve a particular segm ent of the food market, farming population, and a wide part of the consuming public. In the short life of the NOP, the USDA has made a habit of implementing regulations that favor agribusiness interests, even when those regulations disregard the recomme ndations of the NOSB or the NOP career staff. The NOSB in particular has been repeatedly slighted as dozens of policy resolutions have been ignored; this is in addition to the failure of the Secretary to appoint varied and representative stakeholders in t he organic movement and industry. Both the American National Standards Institute and the Inspector General's office have issued highly critical reports of the NOP's respect for the rightful powers of the NOSB. The USDA has also failed to carry out the wi ll on Congress in other ways. Notably, they have yet to establish a Technical Advisory Panel to consult the NOSB on the appropriateness of various materials in organic production; the Board members are ill equipped to scientifically evaluate every availab le material. There was also supposed to be a Peer Review Panel to oversee the NOP accreditation responsibilities that was never convened (Cornucopia Institute 2009). The USDA has not taken any steps to further engage with organic agriculture, as a move ment, production system, or industry. At present, there are no NOP staff members with experience in organic agriculture. Organic agriculture remains primarily confined to the NOP and still has no representative position in the Secretary's office so that organic agriculture could be incorporated into some of the Department's varied and influential programs. The NOP could make big strides in strengthening the standards and public trust by bringing in experienced staff and working to restore the intended tr ansparency of
69 the program (Cornucopia Institute 2009). The new liberal administration and democratically controlled Congress offers some hope for a stronger NOP. Kathleen Merrigan, who worked with Senator Leahy on the OFPA and spent a number of years at the Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture, was recently appointed to Assistant Secretary of Agriculture. It is very encouraging to have an experienced and knowledgeable supporter of organic agriculture so high in the USDA administration. The organic standards have not become entirely meaningless, despite the derogatory political environment, due to the diligence of key organic agriculture supporters. The NOSB is largely made up of people who have a legitimate interest in upholding the i ntegrity of organic standards. There is some degree of self interest at work here: a stricter standard will make a more pronounced difference between organic products and non organic products, thus maintaining loyal markets and price premiums. There are also a number of NOP and farm bill watchdog groups, such as the Organic Consumers Association, the Cornucopia Institute and the Organic Farmers Action Network, among others. These organizations are capable of gathering support, often through direct pleas to Congresspersons, from a multitude of individuals who are interested in maintaining the integrity of the organic standards. They also make a point of attending hearings to offer testimony that reflects the viewpoints of their respective constituencies; just as with the NOSB, this sort of wide representation gives an appropriately complex picture of the organic farming movement. Some producers are so disillusioned with the USDA and the NOP that they forego certification entirely, even though they adhere to inscrutable organic methods. Joel Salatin, the owner of a livestock operation called Polyface Farm, is a well known
70 example of a farmer who has rejected the USDA standards. He claims his operation is "better than organic" and has a continuous open inv itation to all of his customers to come and visit the farm so they can verify his legitimacy first hand. Customers can even come and slaughter their own chickens, which are all processed on the farm in an open facility. Polyface farm is renown as a prime example of efficient material recycling and sound animal husbandry practices. Salatin explains that he doesn't need to be certified because his market is entirely local with no intermediaries; he also saves the fees he would have to pay annually to get c ertification (Pollan 2006). Just as all foods labeled "organic" don't necessarily live up to cultural expectations, not all uncertified foods are necessarily deficient. The best way to know is to know who raises your food. The local foods movement, a re latively recent phenomenon, also attempts to redress the widely acknowledged shortcomings of the USDA organic standards. According to Michael Pollan, food is local if it was produced in place that is no more than a leisurely day's drive from your home. T he movement is basically a repositioning of the organic movement from a vaguely consumerist angle. 13 All the ideologies are the same, but it requires that the consumer take responsibility for their food supply by engaging in the local food system. One sho uld purchase food from local producers whenever possible. This is supposed to boost local economies by keeping money in the community and reinvigorating rural communities. Farmers and the people who work for them earn better 13 By "vaguely consumerist" I mean to say that according to the local foods movement, the most import ant action you can take to support local food systems is through consumption decisions. A common slogan that is used is "vote with your wallet." This is true in a sense the more you spend supporting local food systems, the less you spend supporting the c onventional, corporate food system. I think this is misguided. Defining your activism by how you consume does not fit the organic ideology. Part of the idea was to eliminate the clear split between producers and consumers, to move away from a society in which you are defined by your purchases. "Voting with your wallet" does not require a radical restructuring of the market system or land ownership models.
71 wages because there are middl ing steps to take a cut. The direct connection saves energy by shortening the distance between farm and plate and fosters transparency in production practices. Customers regularly see the person who produces their food and can ask them all manner of ques tions from what kind of fertilizer they use to their favorite recipes. Farmers typically offer tours and workshops, and sometimes host events such as potlucks and harvest parties, which further builds community connections. A diet centered on local food s is more likely to resemble the sort of healthful diet that the organic adherents of the 1960s and 1970s recommended to properly detach from the toxic centralized food system. Local producers sell mostly whole or traditionally processed foods (such as wh ole grain breads, lacto fermented vegetables, yogurt, cheese, etc.), which incidentally cuts down on energy and other resources used in heavy processing. Eating locally also means that one must eat what is in season and what grows in their climate; conseq uently one will be more attuned to their immediate environment. Perhaps most importantly, local food systems cannot be centralized or federally regulated. Uniformity between regions is unnecessary, undesirable, and practically impossible. There is the p otential for a truly radical system in which the community collectively owns the food supply through informal, self regulation. However, the local foods movement shares some of the weaknesses of the organic movement in addition to its strengths. One prob lem is that because so many food systems have been thoroughly degraded after decades of takeover by supermarket chains and national processors it is impossible to acquire a significant portion of one's food from local producers. Farmers who grow mixed cro ps and pastured livestock are still uncommon, and small scale processors such as canneries, bakers, and butchers are nearly
72 extinct. Farmer's market and other direct forms of sales, while growing rapidly, still make up the smallest percentage of organic f ood sales in the country. Economic accessibility remains a large concern. Local foods have become associated with upscale gourmet cooking, in part because of the wider variety of unusual vegetable cultivars and livestock breeds and the superior taste of very fresh food. Local foods can also be more expensive than those found in the grocery for a few reasons: first, small producers utilize more hand labor in growing and processing; second small producers receive no help from the federal government to arti ficially lower costs of production; and third, there is high demand and low supply of local foods and people are willing to pay higher prices to acquire them. There is also the potential for local to become the singular, simplified definition of organic f ood, much like chemical free has been for the last twenty years or so. Just as there are producers who are organic but do not get certified, there are local producers who are not organic. Purchasing local foods is supposed to connect to people to their f ood supply outside of the mainstream system, but it is now possible to buy "local" food at Whole Foods Market, a national health food grocery chain. Throughout the store are signs the demarcate the local goods which simply state where the food was produce d, but nothing about production practices, the size of the farm, or the farmers themselves. It is now possible to buy at least some local foods complacently, thereby undoing all the benefits of the practice, save the (now only marginally) decreased energy usage. There has also been a proliferation of alternative "eco labels" that demarcate one or a number of qualities that are not covered by the organic standards, but are important to those seeking out ecologically and socially conscientious foods and pro ducts. A short list
73 of examples includes: Fair Trade (guarantees farmers from developing countries are paid living wages), Certified Humane (treatment of livestock), Food Alliance (resource and habitat conservation), Protected Harvest (safe working condit ions and fair wages) and the Marine Stewardship Council (certifies sustainable fishing practices). (Hattam 2006) Originally, the NOP would have banned such labels over concern that consumers would be confused and conflate these labels with organic (Youngb erg, Schaller and Merrigan 1993). This measure was stricken from the final rules, but as a result, the certifiers are entirely self regulated. The success of these alternative labels also indicates a growing interest in and knowledge of significant short comings in the standards (where they fail to address substantive characteristics of organic agriculture). The narrowed scope of traits that these labels certify are merely pieces of a greater whole, and separating them from the system is not in line with organic holism. The potential benefit is that the standards can be much more in depth. As long as we are part of a food system that separates us from the people and land that feeds us, laws and regulations such as the USDA organic standards will be entir ely necessary. Organic foods are now too mainstream to simply retract from the conventional food system, unless suddenly every grower and processor decided that they would adhere to the radical roots of the organic movement. Ideally, organic agriculture would flourish as a true alternative to the centralized food system and eventually become the predominant, rather than alternative, mode of food production and distribution. Achieving this goal would require dismantling significant cultural attitudes and political institutions. In the absence of this sea change, the organic movement can affect incremental change through conversion of land to organic management and raising
74 ecological awareness in mainstream consumers. The extent to which organic agricultu re can adapt to the current food system without sacrificing too much of its substance, is the extent to which organic agriculture stands a chance of becoming influential and widespread
75 Appendix I The Initial USDA Policy Statement On Sustainable Agriculture : United States Department of Agriculture, Office of the Secretary Washington, DC 20250 January 19, 1988 Secretary's Memorandum 9600 1 ALTERNATIVE FARMING SYSTEMS 1. PURPOSE The purpose of this memorandum is to state the Department's support for res earch and education programs and activities concerning "alternative farming systems," which is sometimes referred to as 'sustainable farming systems.' 2. BACKGROUND Many of the Nation's farmers have experienced financial stress in the 80's due to the d ownturn in exports of farm products, commodity prices, and land values. The traditional solution of increased production will only further depress commodity prices. Also, farmers are under increased pressure to reduce non point pollution from fertilizers a nd pesticides and reduce erosion. Alternative farming systems that decrease or optimize the use of purchased inputs and that can increase net cash returns to the farmer through decreased costs of production may effectively improve the competitive position of the farmer and decrease the potential for adverse environmental impacts. 3. DEFINITION Alternative farming systems are defined here as alternatives to current farming systems that tend to have a high degree of specialization. The current systems emp hasize high yields which are achieved by the use of major inputs of fertilizers, pesticides and other off farm purchases. Alternative farming systems range from systems with only slightly reduced use of these inputs through the better use of soil tests, in tegrated pest management, and capital inputs to systems that seek to minimize their use through appropriate rotations, integration of livestock with crops, mechanical/biological weed control, and with less costly buildings and equipment. 4. POLICY The department encourages research and education programs and activities that provide farmers with a wide choice of cost effective farming systems including systems that minimize of optimize the use of purchased inputs and that minimize environmental
76 hazards. The Department also encourages efforts to expand the use of such systems. 5. RESPONSIBILITIES The Assistant Secretary for Science and Education is responsible for encouraging and guiding the development of research and extension programs that best meet farmers' needs for facts, information, and guidance concerning alternative farming systems. Each agency head shall implement the programs for which the agency head is responsible in ways that are consistent with this policy on alternative farming system Activities involving more than one agency will be coordinated through the Department's Research and Education Committee. 6. TERMINATION This memorandum shall terminate 1 year from the date hereof. Richard E. Lyng, SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE
77 Appendix II An example of establishment backlash In Balance with Nature by Dr. John Carew, former chairman of the Horticulture Department at Michigan State University Recited in Senate session on October 15, 1990 by Senator Conrad Burns (R MT) In the beginning... there was Earth...beautiful and wild. And then man came to dwell. At first he lived like other animals...feeding himself on creatures and the plants around him. And this was called...In Balance With Nature. Soon man multiplied. He grew tired of ceaseless h unting for food. He built homes and villages. Wild plants and animals were domesticated. Some men became farmers so that others might become industrialists, artists, or doctors. And this was called society. Man and society progressed. With his God given in genuity, man learned to feed, clothe, protect and transport himself more efficiently, so he might enjoy life. He built cars, houses on top of each other, and nylon. And life became more enjoyable. The men called farmers became efficient. A single farmer gr ew enough food for 29 industrialists, artists, and doctors. And writers, engineers and teachers, as well. To protect his crops and animals, the farmers produced substances to repel or destroy insects, diseases and weeds. These were called pesticides. Simi lar substances were made by doctors to protect humans...these were called medicines. The age of science had arrived...and with it came better diet and longer, happier lives for more members of society. Soon it came to pass that certain well fed members of society disapproved of the farmer using science. They spoke harshly of his techniques for feeding, protecting, and preserving plants and animals. They deplored his upsetting the balance of nature. They longed for the good old days. And this had emotional a ppeal to the rest of society. By this time farmers had become too efficient. Society gave them a new title: unimportant minority. Because society could not even imagine a shortage of food.
78 Laws were passed abolishing pesticides, fertilizers and food preser vatives. Insects, diseases and weeds flourished. Crops and animals died. Food became scarce. To survive, industrialists, artists and doctors were forced to grow their own food. They were not very efficient. People and governments fought wars to gain more a gricultural land. Millions of people were exterminated. The remaining few lived like animals...feeding themselves on creatures and plants around them... And this was called...In Balance With Nature. Incidentally, Senator Burns was selected by Time magazin e as one of America's Five Worst Senators in April 2006. He was also included in the report, "Beyond DeLay: The 20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress (and five to watch)." by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) in September of 2006. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conrad_Burns
79 Appendix III
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