The discourse of organics in the U.S. is far from perfect. Peter Whoriskey of the Washington Post testifies to this fact time and again in his articles, particularly in regard to organic dairy farming. In trailing the narrative of an organic farm in Aurora he reveals the ineffective nature of USDA organic enforcement. Even with enforcement, the USDA organic standard met at the lowest bar is not far from conventional standards.
An added obstacle, to make the narrative of organics even more twisted and incomprehensible is the international element of organic agriculture. In the spring of 2016, 3.6 million pound of soy beans were shipped “from Ukraine to Turkey to California”. Although they began their journey as conventional soy beans, they arrived in California with an organic stamp on them. The story of these soy beans, as told by Whoriskey is telling of a greater story of conflicting organic standards and a lack of transparency in moving organic products across borders and oceans. Tracing three different mass imports of corn and soybeans, Whoriskey demonstrates how international trading culture can muddle the nature of a product. On top of that, the article claims that, in the U.S., it is especially easy to circumvent organic standards since farmers do not necessarily care about the legitimacy of the product labeling since they make a significant profit from the organic label. The executive director of the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing, a farmer cooperative, testifies to the permeability of the U.S. organic market.
“The U.S. market is the easiest for potentially fraudulent organic products to penetrate because the chances of getting caught here are not very high,”
Perhaps this wouldn’t be a significant issue if the importation of organic feed wasn’t so vast.
Between 2014 and 2016, the amount of organic corn arriving from Turkey rose from 15,000 metric tons to more than 399,000 metric tons; the amount of organic soybeans coming from Turkey rose from 14,000 metric tons to 165,000.
The importation of organic feed for organic farmers in the U.S. is yet another enormous roadblock to transparency. It seems that not only do we have to cope with lax standards in our own country, but we have to monitor inputs from countries that have entirely different standards. How can the USDA incentivize U.S. farmers to self-regulate organic imports? Can regulation of organic imports be successfully delegated to federal agencies? Or will imports inevitably be treated in the same manner as domestic organics?