Not long ago, I heard from an organic farmer and grass-fed beef rancher in Viborg, South Dakota. He was concerned about the integrity of the organic label.
I’m sorry to confirm he has a point. For many people, just seeing the word “organic” on food products makes them feel confident they’re eating quality, pesticide-free food. But you can’t always count on it. Let me tell you what I found…
Continued below. . .
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Turns out eating healthy is big business
Questions about the integrity of the organic label started in 2006 when USDA employees discovered synthetic additives in organic baby formula. The additives violated federal standards. Yet by 2009, those same additives were in 90 percent of organic baby formula. Suppliers claimed the additives boosted brainpower and vision.
According to a July 3, 2009 article from the Washington Post, the turnaround on additives was a result of lobbying efforts by formula makers who got a USDA program manager to bend the rules. Combine that with a growing list of non-organic ingredients “approved” to be in organically-certified food, and you get what we’ve got: a spike in the number of companies allowed to wear the coveted USDA organic seal.
Why the big push by lobbyists in the first place? Because organic food is big business these days. In the U.S. in 2011, sales of organic food and beverages passed the $31 billion mark. The global organic foods market is worth more than $60 billion.
There’s no question it’s a profitable industry. According to the Organic Trade Association…
- 78% of U.S. families now buy organic
- More than half of all parents have a high level of trust for organic products
- There are over 17,600 certified organic farms, ranches, and businesses
- 35% of organic farms are more profitable than average farms
- 4.6 million acres of farmland in the U.S. is devoted to organic agriculture
- 94% of organic operations in the U.S. will either maintain or increase employment this year
- The organic industry is creating jobs at four times the national average
- The organics industry in the U.S. grew by a record 9.5% in 2011
Those numbers are impressive when you consider how poor the rest of the economy is. This is a growth industry. It’s obvious why so many in the food business want a piece of it. But the rush to claim the “organic” label is leading to lower standards and outright fraud.
Here’s what you’re actually getting when you buy organic
According to the USDA site, if you’re looking for organic food all you have to do is locate the USDA organic seal, printed in brown, green, or black, on products in the grocery store or on the signs above them.
The website explains that if a vendor wants to legally claim something is “100 percent organic,” the product “must contain 100 percent organically produced ingredients, not counting added water and salt.”
If the maker wants to claim a product is simply “organic” (not “100 percent organic”), it can’t have added sulfites, has to have at least 95% organic ingredients, and may contain the following: 1) non-organically produced agricultural ingredients not commercially available in organic form, and/or 2) other substances allowed by 7 CFR 205.605 (more on that in a minute).
Multi-ingredient products can display the seal if at least 95 percent of the product is organic.
The same standards apply to foods labeled “made with organic ingredients,” except in that case, only 70 percent of the ingredients need to be organic. 30% of the food can be non-organic.
What’s the problem here? For starters, when most folks see the word “organic,” that’s what they think they’re getting. Few realize something may be only 95 percent or as low as 70 percent organic.
What’s more, few people realize nonorganic substances are allowed in foods with any kind of organic label. Below is a list of just some of the synthetic stuff permitted in our organic food according to the approved list from the USDA:
And this is just the list of “approved” synthetic ingredients. Nobody wants to think about how many illegal synthetic chemicals are being smuggled in under the organic label.
Most of the items on this list are harmless and some may even be good for you. The ones that raise my unscientific eyebrows are chlorine, ethylene, glycerides and glycerine, ammonium carbonate and ammonium bicarbonate, and some of the sodium compounds. And of course, I avoid wine containing sulfites.
The best organic food may not be labeled
Here’s something to complicate the issue even more: If a producer is completely organic, it doesn’t mean he or she will try to qualify for the USDA Organic label. A great many people don’t want to hassle with the process of getting certified, especially if their farming operation is small.
So someone selling food at a farmer’s market, or even in a small-town grocery store, might really be offering good organic food. They just do it without the government label.
I’ve spoken with farmers in my area who say they don’t go for the official certification because of the expense and bother. At least in a farmer’s market you can look people in the eye and decide if you trust them when they say their foods were grown without chemicals, antibiotics and hormones.
In farmer’s markets it’s become a popular ploy to label produce “low spray.” This means little, if anything. I suspect it’s an effort by nonorganic farmers to profit from the demand for organic foods. Some fruits and vegetables — peaches for example — are very hard to grow without sprays.
In case you’re curious, here’s what farmers and food producers have to do to get organic certification:
- Prove no human sewage sludge fertilizer was used to grow plants or feed animals
- Prove no synthetic chemicals were used, including genetically modified organisms, antibiotics, and pesticides
- Prove the farmland used has been free of synthetic chemicals for three or more years
- Keep detailed production and sales records
- Keep organic products away from non-certified products
- Tolerate occasional on-site inspections
Safeguarding the organic label — is it even possible?
I’m not a fan of government regulation and government-approved labeling as the way to ensure the integrity of the food I’m eating. Control of regulatory agencies invariably gets captured by the people supposedly being regulated, who then make sure the whole thing is run in their interests, not those of the consumer.
If you don’t believe me, just consider the FDA and the drug industry. What makes you think the Department of Agriculture is different? Verily, I say unto you: It isn’t.
A far better method is to buy from people and companies you trust. Those people will, I hope, self-regulate by private industry associations that set high standards for membership. By all means, let organic growers form a platinum club, a gold club and a silver club — private clubs all — and let them insist the members meet their standards.
As for the USDA’s regulatory program, there’s some support from government representatives who’d like to save the organic label from losing all meaning. Just last month, California congresswoman Lois Capps joined New York congressman Richard Hanna in presenting the Organic Standards Protection Act to the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill’s goal is to give the Department of Agriculture the power to “protect the integrity of certified organic products,” as Capps puts it.
She’s calling attention to the fact that companies now label and sell foods with the organic label even though the foods contain or have been treated with things prohibited under organic certification. Capps says this bill, if passed, would give authorities the regulatory power to put an end to this.
What to expect down the road in organics
What’s particularly interesting (and disturbing) is that shortly after the government relaxed the standards, so many new companies jumped in that the organic market became a multibillion-dollar business. Now we often pay twice as much for food that isn’t as natural as we may think. By that, I mean the food isn’t necessarily chemical and pesticide-free and produced in a way that’s safe for the environment.
My bet is we’ll see more rules cropping up for growers and producers to meet “national standards” instead of having clear-cut guidelines that say something either is organic or it isn’t.
If the lax standards continue, they’ll undermine everything the true organic farmers — like my friend in South Dakota — are trying to do.
View the government’s organic label as one step in your vetting process. It’s not worthless, but it’s not the last word, either. If food officially labeled organic has 60 or 70 percent fewer chemicals than regular food, it’s a huge improvement. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Meanwhile, if you’re worried about cell phones contributing to brain cancer, our last issue offered a possible solution. If you missed it, scroll down and take a look now.
New Way to Protect Yourself
From Cell Phone Radiation
The people at Flowww International in the Netherlands say they’ve got something to protect us from cell phone radiation, which may be a cause of brain cancer. Are their devices worth a shot? Let’s take a look. . .
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The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) created some media buzz last year when it declared that regular exposure to mobile phone radiation was a “possible” carcinogen (see Issue #90).
The group based their statement on hundreds of scientific articles that suggest a link between cell phone radiation exposure and brain cancer.
The study raised doubts about the safety of extended cell phone use-although the results weren’t absolutely conclusive. But no matter: Even the threat of brain cancer hasn’t been enough to slow the sale and use of cell phones.
Seeing that all the nifty gadgets are here to stay, some folks with an entrepreneurial spirit got busy developing ways to protect us from the potentially damaging radiation these devices give off.
One company called Floww International has developed a wide range of radiation-protection products. They claim to have products that protect the natural human energy from being disrupted by exposure to radiation from cell phones, televisions, computer screens and other electronic devices.
Before I tell you more about how these radiation shields supposedly work—let’s take a moment to clarify the type of radiation we’re talking about…
You mean there’s more than one kind of radiation?
According to the American Cancer Society, radiation is the emission of energy from any source.
Sunlight is one type of radiation—while the x-ray exams you get in a doctor’s office are another sort altogether. ACS says even the heat coming from your body is a form of radiation (technically true, but nothing to worry about).
Ranked from highest to lowest energy, ACS lists the main forms of radiation as follows:
- Gamma rays
- Ultraviolet (UV) rays
- Visible light
- Infrared rays
- Radiofrequency (radio) waves
- Extremely low-frequency (ELF) radiation
The group said the most important distinction in terms of health risks from radiation is whether the energy is ionizing—that is, whether it contains enough high-frequency energy to damage cell DNA—or non-ionizing (low frequency).
The antenna on your cell phone emits radio waves and microwaves that are a form of radiofrequency (RF) energy or radiation. Although ACS claims that the energy they put out is too weak to damage cell DNA, they do acknowledge concerns that it could affect cells in other ways that could be harmful.
Here’s how companies like Floww International say they can help…
A force field of protection—or a farce?
You might be familiar with the lead aprons and glasses that some medical professionals wear to protect themselves from frequent exposure to x-ray radiation. Or think of the lead vest a dental technician drapes you in before x-raying your teeth.
Well, Floww doesn’t offer a lead helmet to wear while you talk on your cell phone. Instead, the company says its products can “convert harmful radiation frequencies into body-friendly radiation frequencies.”
One of their gadgets can be attached to your cell phone to protect you from close and frequent exposure to radiation.
There’s another small device you can put in your pocket to create a “Floww field” around your body (I bet Superman would have snapped one up to protect himself from kryptonite!).
They even have a set of products for both home and office to help balance the energy flow and counteract harmful radiation waves.
So you might be wondering ‘how these products work?’ Well, Floww International spokesmen say they developed their products according to the principle of resonance. The WHAT?!
They say their products are built with circuits of electronic components that respond to radiation emitted by various sources. They claim these components create a “Floww field” that can block the distorted radiation waves coming from your television, tablets, cell phones and other devices.
The factsheet for their computer screen protector said it’s not uncommon for some people to experience ‘withdrawal symptoms’, such as mild headaches or nausea in the first weeks of use. They said this is probably because your body is no longer being exposed to distorted RF frequencies it has gotten used to.
While this could be true—an argument could be made that one of the electronic components in their product is causing the problems!
But Floww International isn’t the only purveyor of radiation protection products.
Another U.S. company, Research Center for Wireless Technology based in Hawaii, also provides products to help counteract harmful radiation frequencies.
They claim that balancing these RF waves can help protect your nervous system and even shield you from arthritis, depression and Alzheimer’s disease!
Now all these claims might sound a little fantastic. And it’s hard to know for sure if these products truly work. Some satisfied users confirm they do. At Cancer Defeated we’re not technical people, nor do we have the resources to conduct the lab tests that would be needed to verify the claims.
How worried should you be?
We DO know for sure the radiation problem is for real. We just can’t gauge the scope and intensity of it. Cell phone usage, for example, may pose a small risk or a big risk. In twenty years we’ll know, too late for tens of millions of people.
And it’s not just phones. People absorb daily doses of RF waves from a wide array of electronic devices and household gadgets. Prior to, oh, 1920, no one was exposed to this stuff. It’s another experiment that modern industrial society created without planning or forethought.
Where government and industry are concerned, if something doesn’t kill you fast it’s considered safe. The idea of long-term damage hardly comes into play.
There are some things you can do to minimize your exposure to this form of radiation without buying another gadget. For example, Floww International suggests you can minimize RF waves in your bedroom by:
- Charging your cell phone outside your bedroom.
- Watching television in other rooms.
- Moving your clock radio away from the head of the bed.
- Removing plugs from sockets in the bedroom.
- Removing electric blankets from the room.
All this may sound crazy, but there’s significant evidence that being bathed in electromagnetic radiation day and night really is NOT a good idea. I’ve seen enough evidence for the effects of magnetism on health to dissuade me from ever using electric blankets, heating pads or heated car seats. You don’t want to be closely wrapped in an electric field.
At the last conference of the Cancer Control Society, I heard a speaker discuss evidence that wireless routers — so-called “hot spots” — have introduced yet another danger. Her results were not conclusive, but they were worrying.
I have a wireless router in my home to enable my computers and mobile devices anywhere in the house. Millions of other people have them as well, as do most restaurants and coffeehouses and many other businesses.
These devices create a fairly strong radio field in a small area, and you’re in it ALL the time. The speaker at CCS recommended turning wireless routers off when they’re not in use, such as when you’re sleeping.
Do I do this? No. I’m already surrounded by a “worry field” that can’t hold one more item at this time. Like Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll worry about it tomorrow.
As for cell phones usage—you can always use the speaker function when possible and keep calls short to minimize your exposure to the RF waves from the antenna.
The most sensible idea is to use your cell phone less than a half hour a day, for things you really need, rather than chatter away on it for hours on end. But this is probably beyond most people. The need to be in touch 24/7 is yet another addiction that’s seized our society.
But if you want to reduce your risks, these are simple solutions that could help protect you from the modern “radiation bath.”
Lee Euler Publisher