|Common sense prevails . . . at least in the USA|
|Written by Gunnar Rundgren|
|Tuesday, 15 June 2010 01:00|
It is with relief that we read the recent NOP ruling on contamination of composts, where the NOP takes a rather pragmatic stance. The NOP says that the standards do not state a zerotolerance regarding contamination in inputs or to the soil, and therefore de facto lift the ban that was imposed on some contaminated composts.
Obviously it would be ideal if organic production took place in the purest of environments where there were no pesticides, no GMOs, no fumes from chimneys, no downfall from Chernobyl or atomic bomb tests, no exhaust from cars, yes not even from the farmers’ tractors. But the world is not that ideal place. There is probably no single place on earth where the environment is clean, pure or uncontaminated. Therefore, it is important not to define organic products, and even less inputs to organic products, as free from contamination. Instead, the basis for calling a product organic or not should be how the farm is managed, what the farmer does, etc. Now, some people may state that this is a producer-oriented perspective, that consumers expect a product to be clean and residue free. Well, perhaps they do, but on the other hand the consumers will not be best served if there are no organic products for sale. Ultimately, everything is contaminated and whether or not something nasty is found in a product has more to do with the ability of the testing lab.
It is unfortunate that many organic movements and marketers, especially in developing countries, are spreading the perspective that organic products are free from contamination. However, once they have stated this as a fact many times in public, it is hard for them to adapt to reality and take a more realistic stance.
Some certification bodies, often in fear of either consumers or importers, tend to interpret organic standards unnecessarily strictly when it comes to possible contamination. They insist on buffer zones even with neighbouring farms that only use chemical fertilisers, and they put up all kinds of demands for how irrigation water should be managed. One of my personal experiences in this irrational trend was a certification body that didn’t want to certify some land because of the possibility that there had been a battle on that site during World War II. Their concern was that there would be contamination with lead from all the bullets. Perhaps there was, but with that logic large areas of Europe should simply be excluded from organic farming.
Bee keeping is another production area where certification bodies tend to make things almost impossible for the producer by stating that the bees’ whole forage area should be free from contamination and the use of any agro-chemicals, despite the fact that hardly any organic standard actually demands these conditions. Also, neither chemical fertilisers nor herbicides are likely to be a real contamination concern. Some pesticides might be a problem, but then if there is any potential problem it can be determined by a survey and assessment rather than just refusing certification.
A balancing act
Admittedly, there is a need for a balance. Consumers still expect organic food to be less polluted than conventional food, don’t they? This fact is recognised by the NOP under which products from organic farms cannot be sold as organic if pesticide residues are above 10% of the Maximum Residue Levels.
But ultimately the organic sector has a responsibility to educate its buyers and consumers to understand that there can be no guarantee that organic products are ‘clean’ regarding chemicals. The same goes for GMO contamination. As much as nobody wants GMOs in organic products, it is a delusion that there will be no contamination, and those that tell consumers that the introduction of GMOs in a country means that there can be no organic production in that country are enemies of the organic sector, despite their good intentions. Fortunately those statements are heard less and less nowadays.
The Organic Standard is owned and published by Grolink.