The other day I went to Vons to buy organic produce and a customer told me that I was wasting my money buying organic spinach. She told me for a fact that even though grocery stores claim to sell organic produce, it’s not the case. She said she has relatives that are farmers and they inject pesticides into the soil rather than crop dusting, and it’s done at night so the Imperial County will not notice. She also stated that there’s no way you can grow crops without them being sprayed with some form of pesticide because the hot summers attract billions of bugs. So that begs the question, am I really paying more for non-organic produce? — Know What I Eat, El Centro
Inevitably a question like this will come off as a knock against farming, but really, it should be a knock against rumor-mongering.
Still, some local sources contacted did not want to be a part of this Probe. We don’t blame them; it’s negative.
We went to one of the most trusted sources in the organic farming industry, Earthbound Farm Organic, based in San Juan Bautista. Earthbound works with more than 200 organic farmers on 40,000 acres, including growing organic product in Imperial County.
John Foster, Earthbound’s director of quality, food safety and organic integrity, took some time out Wednesday to answer our reader’s questions and explain mass-market organic farming.
“Organic is one of the most highly regulated, inspected and third-party verified food terms in existence in the U.S. All organic farms and processors are inspected at least annually, and their practices must abide by the 550 pages of U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations governing organic certification,” according to Foster.
Beyond certification, he said the USDA’s National Organic Program aggressively enforces the standards, handing out stiff punishments for those who violate the regulations.
Foster said organic certifiers do random pesticide residue tests of products they certify to verify organic integrity.
“At Earthbound Farm, for all those who farm with us, we conduct unannounced organic inspections of farms and do an additional layer of random pesticide residue testing as well,” he said.
“If this person (letter writer) knows of organic cheaters, those people should be reported to the National Organic Program — who are required by law to pursue all such reports.”
He said the most important thing we have in organic is the integrity of the organic seal. Organic farmers manage pests with the use of beneficial insects that prey on plant-damaging insects and also have some natural materials like soap sprays that they can use if the situation requires it.
Foster has worked in organic certification for 20 years and is a member of the National Organic Standards Board.