Food safety is a topic on everyone’s mind these days. While organic food consumers do believe that organic is much safer than conventionally-grown food, our system is by no means fool-proof.
This week I saw two positive pieces of news in regards to food safety, and I wanted to bring them to your attention.
The first one was that a certified organic food importer called OTC-USA, based in Ephrata, PA, has decided to start residue testing on all organic produce imported from the Southern Hemisphere. OTC-USA will be working with Environmental Micro Analysis, out of Woodland CA, to do the testing and the results are available upon request.
Why is this significant?
Organic rules stipulate that certifiers must conduct periodic residue testing of organic products. This “periodic testing” is vague and can vary from certifier to certifier.
According to Marco Brakkee of OTC-USA, “Without such testing, the potential exists that an operation’s products may contain substances that are prohibited for use in organic products. As it seems now, periodic testing done by the certifying agents is not performed on a regular basis. Although OTC-USA imports only produce from certified organic producers, we do feel the need in reassuring the integrity of the product we sell.”
Industry experts aren’t entirely surprised by the actions of companies such as OTC-USA. Carol King, certification director for NOFA-NY, sees this trend continuing and said that “the supply chain is taking more responsibility to ensure safety.”
The National Organic Program isn’t sitting still either and is proposing (link is a PDF document) a rule change to the existing residue testing program. The new rule would mandate that sampling and testing be done on a regular basis and that certifying agents, on an annual basis, sample and conduct residue testing from a minimum of 5% of the operations that they certify.
Even with this proposed rule change, I feel comforted to know that distributors, such as OTC-USA, are taking safety to a level above and beyond what the NOP requires.
After all, one can’t help but wonder how clean a tomato from Mexico or an apple from Argentina actually is. Clearly, OTC-USA had similar thoughts and has decided to get aggressive about this.
The other piece of news that I came across was an article that talked about a Virginia-based food distributor using DNA samples to track where beef comes from. This technology, widely used in Europe already, will be rolled out into restaurants in the U.S. The idea is to make this information readily available on the menu, similar to the labels organic, grass-fed or local.
Not only is this important for reasons of traceability, to determine the origin of meat in case of e.coli or similar outbreaks, but it will allow restaurant customers to know how the animals were treated and fed.
By having this information, this will only increase demand for organically-grown, grass-fed, humanely-raised meat. Furthermore, it will decrease the demand for meat from CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). CAFOs are factory farms that greatly contribute to global warming and are places where animals are raised in the worst imaginable conditions.
If you are not familiar with CAFOs, I urge you to see Food, Inc. What you will see will shock and appall you.
My Take: It is great to see participants in the supply chain taking aggressive steps to make the food we are eating more safe and to give consumers more information about what they are eating.
The real irony in this situation is that just as more consumers are demanding to know where their food comes from, our government and Big Ag are resisting this transparency. They do not believe that labeling genetically-modified food is important or that consumers have the right to know this information.
Not surprisingly, governments in Europe, Japan and other nations feel differently. The labeling of genetically-modified food in these countries is mandatory. In the U.S., it is not.
Positive developments such as the two mentioned above are steps in the right direction to help make labeling a reality. It is all about giving consumers as much information as they deserve. As Americans, isn’t this our right?
And when every consumer has this information, the big winner is going to be the organic food industry.