Saturday, April 02, 2011

What's behind that Organic label?

Why is it that if it's old, slow, or just downright assbackwards, a controlling group of urban organic activists think it's better?

Mischa Popoff

In addition to minimizing our reliance on the internal combustion engine, fossil fuel, electricity, synthetic fertilizer and laboratory analysis, something else that's being severely curtailed in the slow, organic, biodynamic, green, natural food movement is the use of modern, disease-resistant seed varieties.

Why? Because they're new, silly. Rather than accept any modern convenience, slow organic activists promote old seed varieties with reckless abandonment. We're not talking about genetically modified seed here; we're talking about the elimination of seeds that have simply been bred over the decades to protect a crop against common threats like rust, fungus and mildew which can wipe out a field as thoroughly as any hail storm.

I am an ardent proponent of organic farming. I grew up on an organic farm, and worked for five years as an advanced organic farm and process inspector in the United States and Canada. With this background I am of the firm opinion that organic farming is still 100 percent organic even when it moves with the times.

The main goal of organics is to avoid toxins that end up in our food and the environment. So why the heck would we avoid using advanced seeds? The gross assumption on the part of urban organic activists - who've never worked a day on a farm - is that old varieties are better because they were bred in an era when pesticides and synthetic fertilizers did not exist, and they therefore must possess such inherent qualities as natural pest resistance and the ability to seek nutrients deeper in the soil without synthetic fertilizer.

It's fanciful thinking which has never been researched, but hey . who needs science? Research papers filed away in an agricultural department at a university somewhere explain why such seed varieties were long ago abandoned. But the activists can't be bothered to read them. After all, they have faith, blind faith. So, all together now: if it's old seed, it's good seed!

The result is that organic farmers are being, shall we say, "encouraged" to use old seed varieties that no one knows anything about, all in the name of rejecting everything modern. Sorry -- but that simply ain't organic where I come from.

Just how pervasive is this urban romantic view? Well, North America's largest organic certifier, the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA), routinely chooses its "Outstanding Organic Farmer of the Year" based first and foremost on the farmer's use of old varieties, along with other hare-brained factors such as a farmer's use of lunar charting. And no one in the organic industry cares what the long-term consequences might be just as long as the script sells.

This "philosophy" (and I use the term loosely) is supposed to be the salvation for the Third World (and, if urban-organic enviro-activists get their way, the whole world!). And if you're a farmer, make damn sure your records are all in order or these urbanites will boot you right out of their club.

Why is record-keeping so important if you want to be considered a true organic practitioner? Simple, my friend, because there is no field testing done in the organic industry to ensure people are actually following the rules and avoiding toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizer.

What? No testing? Yep. No testing. President Bill Clinton and the America Consumers Union (ACU) wanted testing in 1997 when the USDA's National Organic Program was first tabled, but the whole idea was watered down into oblivion with the addition of the following key sentence: "However, this is not a routine practice conducted on every operation."

You can see where that might lead to a situation where no organic farm in the United States and Canada has been field-tested in the last 14 years. Miles McEvoy, a new administrator at the USDA, promises to change that by testing 10 percent of domestic organic farms this year. But are you ready for the catch? (There's always a catch in such matters.)

Domestic organic farmers fill only 15 percent of the domestic, $30-billion-per-annum market for organic food in the United States and Canada. The other 85 percent comes from places like China, Mexico and Brazil. Naturally, these locations will not be tested. I just hope those Chinese, Mexican and Brazilian organic farmers are keeping meticulous records of their use of old seed varieties in conjunction with lunar planting and harvesting calendars. Otherwise you might very well wonder what the heck you're paying for when you buy organic!

In Canada, there's clear insight into what's going on behind the scenes in the public/private organic industry. Perhaps in keeping with the wishes of Clinton and the ACU, a well-meaning bureaucrat, Ken Bruce, from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA is equivalent to the USDA) tried to gently introduce the idea of organic field testing to a group of organic broker/ traders and processors.

In the revealing words of Paddy Doherty, a self-styled Canadian organic lobbyist, Bruce really put his foot in it by making the mistake of using the word "testing," in conjunction with a description of the proposed Canadian Organic Regime. To the large group of keen organic traders and processors, the mention of testing was like waving a red flag in front of a U.S. politician.

The reaction was immediate, negative and suspicious. Poor Bruce took the brunt of it. Imagine poor Bruce daring to suggest field testing. This is how the powers-that-be in the organic industry routinely exercise their "right" to beat down any notion on government's part that there will ever be any field testing to ensure compliance in this supposedly green industry. By the way, "Poor Bruce" was never heard from again. Miles McEvoy, please take note.

Feeling all warm and fuzzy inside yet? Never mind that random, surprise testing is an important part of how government regulates the conventional food industry, and never mind that field testing is what consumers and the majority of honest organic farmers want. Testing crops and livestock was lobbied right out of existence on both sides of the world's longest unprotected border, thus opening the way for cheap, foreign "organic" imports. Now everyone's happy, except of course for organic farmers (the ones who grow the food) and organic consumers (the ones who eat it and pay all the bills).

But who the hell cares about farmers and consumers when you've got a planet to save, right? Oh, yeah -- and those stupid crop scientists. Who the hell cares about them?

Well, I care about them. I started to do some digging. I had the pleasure (and I use the term loosely) of speaking with Bruce's boss, the former president of the CFIA, a lawyer by the name of Ronald Doering who launched organic regulations in Canada. I asked him, "Would it be fair to say that the nonfarming element in the organic sector succeeded in watering down the Canadian organic standard to the point where it's essentially useless?" His answer was remarkably candid. He said, and I quote, "Who the hell cares if Canadian organic standards are useless? I always warned there would be problems like that when I was still at the CFIA, but the industry kept begging us to regulate them so we finally did!"

There. Now you're probably feeling all warm and fuzzy. Anyone can see that organic standards will remain as useless as tits on a boar unless every operation is tested at least once a year. Cost is always cited as an objection, but a test for more than 200 commonly used toxic herbicides is only $150. Farmers pay on average 10 times that just to have their paperwork looked over, paperwork which you now know focuses on how old their seed variety is and whether or not they're stupid enough to try farming by the moon.

If you believe in magic and have complete faith in human nature, then go right ahead and buy certified organic to your heart's content. But if you're like me and you expect measurable results, then save your money. Always support your local farmers, organic or otherwise, and never, ever, waste your hard-earned money buying organic in a store. I only wish it were otherwise.

SOURCE. (Issue of March 13)

If you dream of weight loss, try having a good sleep

Once again, no curiosity about WHY a correlation emerged. The range of sleeping time that was "beneficial" was rather large (6 to 8 hours) and probably shows only that normal people are best at losing weight

Weight loss is usually linked to changes in diet and exercise. But if you really want to shed those pounds you should also consider altering your sleep patterns, a study claims.

Scientists have found that you can double your chances of reaching your target weight if you get between six and eight hours sleep a night.

If you have any more, you will become too inactive and if you have any less your stress levels will increase along with cravings for unhealthy food.

The research in Portland, USA, by Kaiser Permanente, a health care consortium, found that people trying to lose at least 10lb were more likely to reach their goal if they had lower stress levels and slept moderately.

Nearly 500 obese adults with an average age of 55 took part in the study. They were asked to attend 22 counselling sessions, reduce their diet by 500 calories a day and increase the amount of exercise they took to at least three hours a week.

They also had to keep a diary of their habits, including their sleep patterns and stress levels. After six months, 60 per cent of the participants had lost at least 10lb.

Researchers found that the successful dieters were more likely to report that they had slept between six and eight hours each night. Almost three quarters of dieters who had both low stress levels and six to eight hours sleep a night were likely to achieve the 10lb weight loss target.

They were also twice as likely to be successful as participants who reported the highest stress levels and got six or less hours sleep a night.

"This study suggests that when people are trying to lose weight, they should try to get the right amount of sleep and reduce their stress," said lead author Dr Charles Elder. "Some people may just need to cut back on their schedules and get to bed earlier. Others may find that exercise can reduce stress and help them sleep. "For some people, mindbody techniques such as meditation also might be helpful."

The study has been published in the International Journal of Obesity.


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