Why did the chicken cross the road?
February 23, 2003 3:17 PM   Subscribe

Buried within the $397 billion spending bill passed last night [Feb. 13] by Congress is a provision that would permit livestock producers to certify and label meat as "organic" even if the animals had been fed partly or entirely on conventional rather than organic grain. [from NYT] [more inside]
posted by MzB (26 comments total)
Under the provision, if the Agriculture Department certifies that organic feed is commercially available only at more than twice the price of conventional feed, then the department cannot enforce regulations requiring that livestock labeled organically raised be fed only organic feed. [NYT]

It started last summer. Now it's the law! Search for H.J.RES.2.ENR, select to download the big file (1.7MB), search for "771".

Who is responsible? Representative Nathan Deal, Republican of Georgia, on behalf of Fieldale Farms, GA. Meanwhile, Sen Patrick Leahy, who supports organic farming, tries to repair the damage.
posted by MzB at 3:19 PM on February 23, 2003

Well, there goes my nights sleep.
posted by jonmc at 3:25 PM on February 23, 2003

How long before the words "conventional feed" get replaced with "soylent green" in similar legislation?
posted by Space Coyote at 3:27 PM on February 23, 2003

jonmc: that's the dont-sleep-grow-cow hormon in your meat I suspect
posted by elpapacito at 3:32 PM on February 23, 2003

While its easy to laugh this off - I think it has some really awful implications for food labeling (and lots of other kinds of labeling as well). For example, we labeled this drug "safe" even though we didn't test it on anyone because, well, there were a shortage of willing test subjects. We said it contained 100% juice, but it doesn't because this year there was a shortage of the fruit that we used. At a basic level, it legislates the legality of lying to consumers.
posted by dhacker at 3:35 PM on February 23, 2003

Sounds like an asinine, pointless change. Can anyone tell me why farmers should be allowed to misrepresent their food to customers?

Is the market for organic beef really that big? If it's an attempt to quickly cash in on the phenomena without paying the hefty feed bills for farmers, aren't they aware that the inflated price will be short lived until everyone begins flooding the market with fake organic meat?
posted by mathowie at 3:37 PM on February 23, 2003

Congratulation mathowie, you just won the Nobel Prize!

A saying about purchasing used cars is that someone "is buying someone else's problems." What might seem like a great car on a lot might actually be a piece of junk once the new owner drives it around the block. The prospect of the used car actually turning out to be a lemon has a chilling effect on all used-car transactions, writes Akerlof, which ultimately can lead to a "breakdown" of that market altogether, as wary buyers decide that there is no way to ultimately tell whether the car is good or bad and sellers are unable to persuade them otherwise.
posted by MzB at 3:52 PM on February 23, 2003

Is the market for organic beef really that big?

Generally what most people are buying in the market or at cheaper restaraunts is in-organic beef, stuff coming from cattle finished at feed lots where the cattle are fed growth supplements and, essentially, themselves. Adding that many pounds by cheap feed really doesn't lend much to the taste of the meat and the growth hormones will leach into your system.

No I'm not a food snob; I'm just a former farm-kid who's moved to the big city
posted by nathan_teske at 4:07 PM on February 23, 2003

hey, as long as they have organs, they're organic, right?
posted by angry modem at 4:11 PM on February 23, 2003

mathowie, MzB, playing off your comments and adding a dash (or two) of my own cynicism I'd proffer the following theory: agribusiness wants to destroy the organic movement. They like the factory processes they've worked hard to develop and don't want a higher quality, more healthy product to compete with. Rather then get bad press by banning organic, it's better to play the victim (feed costs too much and is oppressing business) and to expand the definition of organic into something meaningless. The agri-lobby has been doing everything it can to undermine competition and consumer choice. This is just the latest travesty. Basically, with this law, farmers who actually follow organic guidelines will be forced out of the market by those who don't, but get to use the same labeling.
posted by elwoodwiles at 4:19 PM on February 23, 2003

this is ridiculous - call your senator tomorrow morning.

here in the twin cities there is an excellent little farmers market in downtown st. paul - where you can you meet the farmers that raise the livestock being offered - one very nice woman who offers excellent chicken, beef and pork told me she NEVER eats meat that is not produced by herself or by someone she knows (all true organic farmers). the more we make an effort to find and support farmers like this hardworking woman and her family - the healthier we and our small family farms will be.
posted by specialk420 at 4:43 PM on February 23, 2003

Boycotting Fieldale is fairly easy, but does anyone know a good way to find out who buys/resells their private label product?

And I agree with SpecialK, I dunno if anything can be changed once the omnibus has been passed...but anyone who cares about organic standards should raise a big ol' stink about this sneaky attack on hard fought standards.
posted by dejah420 at 4:50 PM on February 23, 2003

Ah, meant to include these links...d'oh!

Write your representative.

Find your Senator.

Phone calls work better than emails when it comes to actually getting them to listen to you. All of the congressional aides I've ever spoken to, and there have been quite a few, have said that emails generally get trashed without being read.
posted by dejah420 at 5:03 PM on February 23, 2003

I've been reading about misnaming natural/organic/whatever foods for years. Frankly I'm surprised that anyone still buys such things given their checkered history. Sort of like buying medicine from a traveling fair.
posted by HTuttle at 5:05 PM on February 23, 2003

Buried within the $397 billion spending...

"Buried" = "hidden." Slipped in a rider, did they? Bastardos!..
posted by Shane at 5:14 PM on February 23, 2003

i was going round a winery a couple of days ago and they were starting some organic vines. no-one seemed sure if they needed to use organic oaks for the casks, though. is there any kind of rule on what is organic? they mentioned iso 14000.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:17 PM on February 23, 2003

Most organic food that I see has, in small print, an indication of whose rules they're following. Usually some State of California regulations; occasionally something else. As I understand it, the "organic" label is kind of like "kosher": if you want to know the specifics, you need to know which organization or set of rules the grower is following, and usually you can find that printed on the package.

As of October, 2002, products labeled "organic" in the US need to meet the requirements of the USDA national organic program, but I don't know if the NOP is more or less strict than California's regs, for example.
posted by hattifattener at 6:04 PM on February 23, 2003

How's this for an idea—a lot of organic foods companies mark that they are organic in line with the California state definition, presumably because their requirements are the most strict. What California state could do in response to this is create a new term for meeting their organic foods requirements, trademark it, and allow all qualifiers to use it for free. This would allow manufacturers to put a very clear mark on their products that they comply with California law while seperating themselves from the new tainted federal "organic," while the trademark allows the state to litigate those who use the term improperly.
posted by teradome at 6:06 PM on February 23, 2003

that's funny, hattifattener, i hadn't even read your post before writing mine. :)
posted by teradome at 6:10 PM on February 23, 2003

As well it should be. Why let extremists co-opt the word "organic" to mean something entirely different from it's technical meaning?
posted by atbash at 6:15 PM on February 23, 2003

You haven't seen nothin' yet.......As soon as some of those geneticaly altered genes start hopping around (via viruses, etc.), all of our food - and we humans too - will be transgenic.

I've always wanted to be able to manufacture my own pesticides - within my very own body, that is.
posted by troutfishing at 6:54 PM on February 23, 2003

emails generally get trashed without being read

hmm. Well, I worked for one Senator back in 1997, and they most definitely read, tracked, and responded to all the email that they recieved. I'm not sure if it was weighted as heavily as letters and phone calls, but it was definitely kept track of in the weekly tallies. Also, I emailed both my Senators in Maine on a number of occassions when I lived there and got responses in the mail each time. They were written by interns I'm sure, but it at least proves that it wasn't just filtered right into the "delete" folder.

Of course, things may have changed a lot since 1997, I suppose.

As far as the FPP post goes, absolutely outrageous. Although I do have to say that the few times I've tried organic beef, I've never much cared for it. Corn-fed beef is bad for a lot of reasons, but it just tastes so good. Very hard to give up.
posted by boltman at 7:31 PM on February 23, 2003

You're all being a bit reactionary. As a Monsanto executive said back in the 80's about the pesticide Temik:

"I guarantee that you eat a little bit every day. How do you know that it doesn't help you?"

(I couldn't find a link to this quote, but I swear that it's true.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:34 PM on February 23, 2003

Yeah, Monsanto is right! - I'm duct-taping a big chunk of radium to my head.
posted by troutfishing at 8:09 PM on February 23, 2003

This is the type of crap that makes politics so disgusting. It is amazing that people even believe a word that comes out of a politician's mouth anymore.
posted by eas98 at 8:30 AM on February 24, 2003

It is amazing that people even believe a word that comes out of a politician's mouth anymore.

I don't believe a word. I can't think of a profession more predisposed to lying...
posted by Shane at 10:43 AM on February 24, 2003

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