Grocery Aisles Are Filled with “Fake Organics” (Here’s How to Avoid Them)

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The organic food movement was born from a genuine desire to heal the earth through regenerative agriculture practices and a proper relationship with food. Its intention was to provide a standard to which our nation’s food producers could be held—one that would foster healthy soil building, humane and sustainable animal husbandry, and nutrient-dense, health-promoting crops.

We’ve written before about the clear superiority of organic foods, and how switching from conventional to organic produce can clear pesticides and other toxins from the body at a miraculous pace.

We’ve also lamented the “watering down” of the organic certification, though, and how the “USDA Organic” stamp of approval is no longer a guarantee of quality and safety.

Organic grains and produce have been found to be contaminated with glyphosate and other toxic pesticides.

Some of these compromises in quality and safety are simply a product of unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances. For example, organic grains and produce have been found to be contaminated with glyphosate and other toxic pesticides. In most cases, this isn’t because organic farmers are clandestinely using pesticides, but instead because nearby conventional farms enable cross-contamination via rainwater, irrigation, and wind.

In other cases, however, a much more blatant undermining of the organic standard is occurring.

Has the organic label been compromised?

Unfortunately, the problem of fake organics (not so affectionately called “fauxganics” by some organic activists) is not a new one. In a previous article, we discussed how fake organics make their way to the United States from China. In this case, conventionally grown crops, GMOs, and even highly contaminated products are intentionally snuck in under the banner of the organic seal. And because the United States outsources its certification approvals to certifiers in China, the violation is allowed to continue.

The dairy industry has also been in the business of pumping out fake organics for quite some time. Dairy mega-farms have been caught blatantly breaking the rules of their organic certification: keeping far more animals on the premises than is allowed, not allowing cows out to graze (and then advertising products as “organic grass-fed”), and even feeding cows the same toxic, grain-based diet as conventional milk cows.

The saddest part of this story is that the malpractice of these large companies is slipping right past USDA organic inspectors. Either inspectors are falling woefully short in the quality of their certifications, or they’re intentionally collaborating with farms by ignoring violations.

Another, more recent controversy is the flooding of organic markets with hydroponics—that is, produce grown indoors, with artificial lights, and without the use of soil.

In many ways, hydroponics operations are laudable. They’re incredibly space and energy-efficient, and thus could serve the world’s growing need for food production without the destructive and unwieldy practices of conventional agriculture.

Hydroponics could give the countless acres of soil depleted by monocrop agriculture a chance to rebuild. And because hydroponics happens indoors, there’s no need for pesticides, and yields don’t suffer (because they don’t use pesticides, organic farmers’ crop yields are usually smaller).

Despite these advantages, however, many organic activists insist that hydroponic produce does not belong under the organic banner. After all, organic agriculture is supposed to be about soil building, regeneration of natural ecosystems, and alignment with biological cycles—the soilless, indoor practice of hydroponics can’t claim to have much in common with this philosophy.

Because of its efficiency, hydroponic produce is much less expensive to grow. As a result, hydroponics are quickly replacing authentically organic produce in grocery stores. Again, it’s not necessarily a bad thing for hydroponics to be available, but they should be clearly differentiated from organically grown produce.

And one more word to the wise about hydroponics: Scotts Miracle-Gro, a longtime partner with Monsanto in the distribution of Roundup pesticide, is attempting to capture the hydroponics market by buying up companies that sell nutrients and growing lights. If you choose to buy hydroponics, always know your sources, and don’t unwittingly support Monsanto’s cronies.

Vote with your dollar

Ultimately, it’s up to you to choose what kind of organic products deserve to be supported. No advocacy group or activism program can preserve the culture of organic food in its current form if public interest pushes for change. If enough consumers choose not to buy fauxganics, however, the market will have to respond.

Learn to be aware of what you’re buying—where it came from, how it was grown, and what assurances there are of it being authentically organic.

Fake organic dairy products are some of the easiest to spot, and the ethics behind them are unambiguously disgraceful, so avoid them at all costs. Tread carefully with any “organic” products that have been imported from China; in most cases, it’s easy enough to find a local (or least domestic) version of the product that’s more likely to be truly organic.

Make up your own mind about hydroponics, but remember that truly organic farmers—the ones rebuilding the earth’s soil and fostering positive relationships with natural ecosystems—could use your support too. Without them, there’s little standing in the way of the soil-destroying (and health-sapping) practices of conventional agriculture.


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