In addition to being America’s self-anointed nutrition czar, Marion Nestle is our benevolent organic overlord. On her blog (titled, without a hint of authoritarian irony, “What To Eat”), Nestle complained bitterly this morning about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plan to let some seafood producers label their catch as “organic.” And along with other acolytes in the all-organic Church of Whole Foods, she misses the boat completely.
[O]rganic rules are supposed to be about the conditions of production. Since when is ocean water organic? … The producers of farmed fish are desperate to be able to market them as organic. So isn’t this move more about marketing than about producing fish sustainably and healthfully?
"Since when is ocean water organic?" Good question. Here’s a better one: Since when is farm soil organic? Or the rain that falls on it?
Nestle’s organic whine reminds us of a similar one from six years ago, which had organic-only food maven Joan Dye Gussow actually complaining to the San Francisco Chronicle when large companies began converting the masses to organic living. “This isn’t what we meant,” carped Gussow in 2002. “When we said organic we meant local. We meant healthful. We meant being true to the ecologies of regions. We meant mutually respectful growers and eaters. We meant social justice and equality.”
Alas, when the USDA said “organic,” it meant marketing. (The USDA website notes that it “makes no claim that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food.”)
This morning The Washington Postreinforced this basic truth, noting that the National Organic Program — the government department that deals with administering organic standards — is part of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service:
The marketing service “doesn’t deal with nutrition or food safety,” said [USDA] spokeswoman Joan Shaffer. “When you buy a steak that’s labeled choice or prime, that’s us. Is it healthy? Is it safe? That’s dealt with somewhere else.”
Consumers Union, the increasingly activist-leaning organization that publishes Consumer Reports magazine, should take note. The group told The Miami Herald yesterday that there are some foods whose organic versions we should all buy “as often as possible.” Particularly jarring is Consumers Union’s continued insistence that organic beef is less likely than other meat to harbor mad cow disease. (It isn’t, of course.)