Sunday, February 22, 2009

Environmentally Grown?


Yesterday was the kind of snowy day when it's just nice to stay in. So I sent my co-conspirator off to the store for supplies. One of the items he brought home was a bag of potatoes. Usually we try to buy organic produce, especially potatoes. These were displayed under sign that said "Environmentally Grown" and were at least semi-local coming from the northern part of the state. That was enough to gain his interest so into the cart they went.

It turns out the Environmentally Grown label comes from Food Alliance, a non-profit that provides a certification program for farmers, ranchers and food handlers. It is not an organic certification. Their scope of interest is different from that covered by the current government definition of organic agriculture. Over the last several years organic agriculture has evolved. Originally the avoidance of chemical fertilizers and pesticides was not only a means of producing healthier food, but it also had the side benefits of protecting adjacent ecosystems, reducing farmers' production costs and preserving cropland. As consumers became more interested in their own health than the environment's it became easy for "organic" to become the marketing buzzword it is today. Entry of the largest agribusiness interests in the United States and abroad into the organic market has provided us with year-round access to flavorless tomatoes that might have been grown without pesticides! The benefits are dubious when such a narrow definition of environmental (and social? individual?) health is the basis for standards. Social and ecological good as a byproduct of organic practices can't be counted on anymore.

Food Alliance's certification goes beyond federal organic certification. It encompasses worker rights and safety, the humane treatment of animals, protection of wildlife and other practices that add up to a more holistic model of sustainability. Do I trust the not-entirely-organic certification program of a non-profit more than the not-entirely-organic program of the U.S. government? Sure. Why not? Even with literacy restored to the Oval Office this year, I'm doubtful of Washington's ability to get something this important right. One need only look at the last couple of versions of the USDA's food pyramid to see how agricultural lobbyists are able to trump good nutritional science. I'm pleased to have the Environmentally Grown label for assessing the food I might buy. I see the Food Alliance certification as sitting between the national organic standard and my practice of buying locally from farmers I can know in terms of trust. In any case, the potatoes tasted pretty good.

2 Responses:

info said...

Good explanation of Food Alliance Certified, the most comprehensive certification of sustainable foods in N. America.

Food Alliance doesn't only address production practices used on the farm - it can also cover the companies that handle the food once it leaves the field (ie, how the workers who wash & bag those potatoes are treated, how waste is minimized and energy is conserved in that process, etc.).

Food Alliance standards (see below) are also independently verified by a third party inspection to ensure credibility of marketing claims (to avoid greenwashing). Not all eco-labels are third party verified.

To earn Food Alliance certification, farms and ranches must meet the following standards:
• Provide safe and fair working conditions
• Reduce pesticide use and toxicity
• Conserve soil and water resources
• Protect wildlife habitat
• Ensure healthy and humane care for livestock
• No added hormones or non-therapeutic antibiotics
• No genetically modified crops or livestock
• Continuously improve practices

Food processors and distributors seeking certification must meet related standards:
• Use Food Alliance Certified ingredients
• Provide safe and fair working conditions
• Reduce use of toxic and hazardous materials
• Reduce and recycle waste
• Conserve energy and water
• Ensure quality control and food handling safety
• No artificial flavors, colors or preservatives
• Continuously improve practice

For more info visit: http://www.foodalliance.org

jmb said...

You might also be interested in Healthy Grown potatoes...grown in WI! http://www.healthygrown.com/