Editor’s Note: Mischa Popoff is an IOIA Advanced Organic Inspector and is the author of Is it Organic? which you can preview at www.isitorganic.ca. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mischa Popoff.
If ever there was an argument for the organic industry to buckle down and finally start field testing, this is it: The E. coli outbreak in Europe has now resulted in at least 44 deaths and over 3,700 illnesses. The outbreak was caused by bean sprouts originating from an organic farm in Germany.
At least all the paperwork for organic certification was probably filled out correctly. Feel safer?
German officials say they won’t reprimand the owners of this organic farm because, “You cannot punish someone for having bad luck." Excuse me? Bad luck?
The global, multi-billion-dollar certified organic-industrial complex has been riding on a non-scientific wave of pure hype for over a decade now. As someone who grew up on an organic farm and inspected over 500 organic farms and processing facilities, let me make this crystal clear: There is NO ROUTINE FIELD TESTING in the organic industry! None.
Is it possible the lack of laboratory analysis might have had something to do with the failure of German officials to notice that one of their organic farms was about to kill several dozen people?
Since 1998, I have been asking why we don’t test organic farms and processing facilities to ensure they are actually organic. Instead, paperwork is relied upon; mountains and mountains of useless paperwork.
Didn’t we learn anything from Bernie Madoff? He kept up on all of his paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In fact, he spoke glowingly of the very regulators he was gaming at public talks sponsored by esteemed academic institutions. (Don’t feel ripped off though; they were free talks!)
Madoff did everything the regulatory bureaucracy required of him -- on paper. He then bilked investors for billions of dollars as others in the financial community tried in vain to blow the whistle on him. Thank goodness he had immaculate paperwork.
After years of trying, I finally gave up asking why we didn’t field-test organic farms and processing facilities to ensure prohibited substances like uncomposted manure were not making their way into the organic food chain. Rather than play along in the paperwork charade, I put down my pen and began openly lobbying for testing of all organic farms and processors at least once a year on a surprise basis.
Right now, if you buy certified organic food, all that stands between you and E. coli-induced hemolytic uremic syndrome is good record-keeping. Is it a surprise that some journalists are calling for a moratorium on the organic industry?
David Mastio of the Washington Times, for instance, points out that twice as many people have now died from eating organic food than died in the Gulf of Mexico oil rig explosion and the nuclear power plant meltdown in Fukushima, Japan combined. Pajamas Media warns more succinctly, “Eat Organic and Die.” But the powers-that-be in the organic industry are already pushing back, attacking their detractors personally instead of responding to their genuine concerns, a tactic to which I have grown accustomed over the years.
All that is required to avoid a repeat of this tragedy is what every honest organic farmer I have ever met wants: Routine, unannounced, organic field testing. No more useless paperwork!
But, would you believe that with the exception of organic farmers, everyone else in the organic industry only considers the possibility of testing organics for GMO content, not for toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizer or fecal coliforms (E. coli)? Want some poop in your certified-organic salad?
I was once proud to say I grew up in the organic food industry. However, the deaths in the European heartland of the global organic movement are a wake-up call. The industry badly needs to re-focus its efforts in basic science and public health before another tragedy strikes.