Why former organic farmer, food inspector turned against Big Organic to embrace GMOs

There was a time, not so long ago, when the American organic movement actually stood for something.

I grew up on an organic grain farm and worked from 1998 to 2003 as a USDA organic inspector. Organic farmers were still in control during this time, and were nearly unanimous in supporting the development of no-till (or min-till) methods that don’t rely on synthetic herbicides, which are banned in organic production. Sadly, the effort failed, thanks entirely to the rise of a new, rabidly anti-GMO, urban organic leadership.

Natural substances were experimented with to replace Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, but all proved ineffective, leaving the roots of weeds to regenerate, or proving more toxic than Roundup, turning an organic field into a moonscape devoid of beneficial insects and microorganisms.

Not a single peer-reviewed article was written admitting to the failure. Organic farmers have been forced to till their land as their grandparents did to kill weeds ever since, a practice that requires at least ten-times more fossil fuel per-acre than spraying. And this created market pressure for retailers to shift to dubious imported certified-organic food as fewer American farmers could justify the astronomical fuel cost of converting to organic.

Rather than listen to the concerns of domestic farmers, urban activists who had never worked a day on a farm simply redoubled their attack against the single most-promising innovation in farming since the discovery of the ammonia-synthesis process in 1917: genetically-modified organisms. GMOs not only facilitate no-till farming, but have also allowed almost all American farmers growing corn, soybean and cotton to quit pulverizing their soil.

These GM critics have abused the tax code to scare people into believing there are too many unknowns when it comes to growing and consuming GMO crops, never providing any evidence, just one-off scare studies that are either poorly executed or whose findings are not replicated. Moreover, they have never once been taken to task for the fact that non-GMO, government-approved certified-organic food often does not even come from American fields.

Smaller_file_size_version_of_head_shot_400x400So that’s when I left the organic movement. By 2003, just one year after President Bush signed President Clinton’s National Organic Program (NOP) into law, the organic movement no longer bore much resemblance to what it once stood for so proudly for almost a century. Nutrition and purity were sacrificed and replaced with an irrational, religious opposition to GMOs, even though GMO crops offer precisely what the organic movement once claimed to provide.

It was bad enough when Washington approved lax standards for the fledgling “organic” industry. By downplaying field testing during the Clinton Administration, organic supporters could make whatever outlandish marketing claims they wanted to promote organics and draw unfavorable comparisons with conventional agriculture, and GMOs in particular. A billion-dollar industry based on part on twisting the science was launched.

Things then went from bad to worse during the Bush years when enforcement of the watered-down field-testing clause of the USDA NOP was ignored altogether, not by Bush as organic supporters claim, but by the industry itself, thereby guaranteeing a complete lack of oversight by federal regulators. The USDA NOP henceforth became the sine qua non of the anti-GMO movement.

Related article:  Americans more skeptical of GMOs now than in 2016, Pew report shows

The organic industry is now bigger than Major League Baseball, based in part on cheap imports from countries like China, where standards and enforcement are even lower than in the US, and paranoia. Instead of serving as a positive standard for alternative food-production, the NOP is now a negative force being used to bludgeon innovation. And yet, American farm and commodity groups, alongside most GM seed corporations, actually support the organic movement, pretending it’s just fine to deride genetically-engineered crops even though they provide ecological benefits, such as cutting down on fossil fuel and pesticide usage while preserving our precious topsoil.

Meanwhile, since organic crops are not tested under the Clinton-Bush USDA NOP, a whopping 43 percent of certified-organic food now contains synthetic pesticide residue. Why pay homage to that? Are the leaders of science-based farming in America really that desperate to want to be part of the “in” crowd?

And finally, the coup de grâce for GMO farming in America: Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo’s GMO labelling bill (H.R. 1599). With bipartisan support, this law will allow the Secretary of Agriculture, a political appointee, to use his or her discretion to establish a threshold limit of just 0.9% for GMOs in organic food, a completely arbitrary number arrived at through negotiations with our European trading partners, not through science. Currently there is no threshold; cross pollination is only considered an issue if the presence of non organic crops was the result of intentional mixing. Pompeo’s bill, if it’s passed with this regulation intact, would make it possible for organic farmers or activist groups to sue conventional farmers directly if even a tiny amount of GMO pollen drifts over a fence line. Never mind that GMOs have never caused a single illness anywhere, even in Europe where millions of tons of American GMO feed are imported every year.

President Clinton tried to get organic stakeholders to accept GMO crops on a case-by-case basis. Thousands of honest, hardworking American organic farmers remain open to growing GMO crops, appreciating the fact that the first independently successful GMO crop — i.e. papaya — requires no pesticides and would, like the majority of GMO crops on the drawing board right now, be grown under organic management.

But urban organic activists have turned the American organic community into a full-fledged anti-GMO movement, whether farmers like it or not, all based on the failure to develop a viable organic version of no-till farming to compete with GMO no-till farming.

Oh well… if you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em I guess.

Mischa Popoff is a former organic farmer and Advanced Organic Farm and Process Inspector who worked on contract under the USDA’s National Organic Program. He is the author of Is it Organic? Follow him @MischaPopoff

186 thoughts on “Why former organic farmer, food inspector turned against Big Organic to embrace GMOs”

  1. Help me out here, you write “Moreover, they have never once been taken to task for the fact that most non-GMO, government-approved certified-organic food does not even come from America fields.” Most? That TV bit you link to was from 2008, there’s a disclaimer that says the Whole Foods blend is now from CA, and Whole Food is not the only organic retailer in the US. Sure we important organics, but most? That’s a stretch unless you have actual recent data to back it up.

    • First off, only 61% of USDA certified-organic operations are domestic (which is itself an abysmal statistic for an industry that claims to help domestic farmers).

      It gets worse because… of that 61%, fully one-third are processors. In other words, there are only 2 certified-organic farmers in America for every certified-organic processor.

      I’ll let you do the math from there. Happy to help further.

        • Let me help you with the math here Don. There are only 2 organic farms in America (that’s right, just two) for every processing facility. Where do you think these processors get all their raw ingredients from? Because they’re sure’s-heck not getting them from American organic farms.

          • Let me help you with public policy blogging, Mischa. When you state that “most” of our organics are imported without being able to substantiate that with data, say from USDA, then you’re engaging the very same smoke and mirrors game you accuse GMO skeptics of.

            Here’s a Penn State prof saying that food handlers in 2007 said 37% of it was imported. Far from “most.” In the same piece food companies surveyed in 2008 imported only 19%. Far from “most” again.


            Be good to correct that in the piece IMHO, otherwise someone will come along and link to this and keep spreading the “most” fallacy.

          • The Penn State prof you’re quoting is providing figures based on the dollar-value of imported organic goods. I am referring to the VOLUME of organic goods imported into America on an annual basis from countries like China, Mexico, Argentina and Turkey, all based on paperwork without a single field test.

            But thanks all the same for trying to help Don. I appreciate the effort.

          • There is no citation because the USDA will not do for the organic industry what it routinely does for every other sector of America’s agricultural economy: provide accurate data on our trade balance.

            So, what you have to do is have a look at the USDA’s “List of certified USDA organic operations” which is available here: http://apps.ams.usda.gov/nop/

            I recommend downloading the Excel spreadsheet. When you do, you will confirm that there are only 2 American organic farms for each American processing facility.

            Hope that helps.

          • Ok, I see where you’re coming from now. There’s likely some truth in there somewhere, but as Brett mentions above, making a blanket statement without data citations and without factoring in organic farmers who are also processors and organic farmers who do not participate in certification makes it hard to call “most.”

  2. Good article but I don’t understand this statement: “These GM critics have abused the tax code to scare people into believing there are too many unknowns when it comes to growing and consuming GMO crops”. How is the tax code involved?

    • Countless organic groups have applied for, and received, charitable tax status through the IRS, allowing them to act as piggy banks for the anti-GMO movement. But what’s charitable about standing in the way of innovation, not to mention the million-or-so kids under the age of five who will go blind and die this year while GMO Golden Rice sits in regulatory limbo?

        • basically organic food companies are tax-exempt making massive amounts of money to use to fund ANTI-GMO movements to allow labeling thus getting more money

          • I don’t dispute the labeling effort is driven to gain market share but can you give me some list of organic food companies that are tax exempt?

          • The companies aren’t tax exempt. The “not-for-profit” associations are. And just like Greenpeace, many of these tax-exempt organic associations are worth millions, all in the name of forestalling science.

          • I don’t know of any real companies that are tax exempt. I think some here have mixed up or conflated the idea of a for profit company with the many anti-GMO activist groups. Most or all of the activist groups are 501(3)c, and many of the for-profit feed cash into those groups and/or are closely allied with them.

        • Sure.

          There’s nothing “charitable” about being organic. It’s a business… a multibillion dollar business in fact.

          And as explained it’s all based on an anti-technology agenda, which is about as uncharitable as you can get.

          • Mischa, are you saying they set up 501(c)3’s as nonprofit charitable organizations? Other tax status? Can you give an example? Cuz yeah, that’s disingenuous as all getout.

          • The Cornucopia Institute, Organic Consumers Association and Organic Farming Research Foundation are all examples of rabidly anti-GMO, organic organizations that are recognized by the IRS as tax-exempt 501(c)(3) “public interest” groups.

          • They don’t deserve that designation, then, as they are most likely advocating much more than their (c)(3) status permits. If that is they case, they could have their (c)(3) status revoked, unless they can show that what they do is “education” (yeah, wink wink) as separated from advocacy and lobbying.

    • I suspect that many of them are registered as 501(3)c – charities – to avoid taxes. I have only looked at a few specific ones, but in two cases they had failed to file the required IRS form 990 for the past year or two – in one case no filings for 3 years.

    • Google: 501(3)c + organic. Dozens of organic, very often anti-GMO sites and organizations come up. For a lot of them you can see their IRS form 990 – if they have filed one (some apparently think they don’t need to).

  3. Wow, how did I know that I would see Mischa’s face in this article just by reading the title. Give it up already. If you don’t want to support organics then don’t buy it. If I want to support conventional, I’ll buy it. Go find another industry to wrongfully bash. You’re not doing either industry any good.

  4. Lots of organic produce purchased cant grow domestically. Such as coffee, coco, and lots of super foods, like acai, mangosteen and so on. Wow, natural pesticides and herbicides are not as effective at killing life then toxic chemicals. Your a genius. So you are saying lets focus on ease and profits and screw the desire of the majority and possible side effects to the planet and people. Sometimes the easiest way is not the best,

    • Does that mean you’re unwilling to become a serious locavore?

      Because eating local is frequently proposed as an alternative to, “industrial farming” and “big agriculture”.

      Pretty hard to grow quinoa in New York state, organic or not.

      So what goes in the root cellar this Halloween? Spuds and turnips? Or your secret stash of organic quinoa from Dean and Deluca?

      • Blah Blah Blah. Point is author stated “only” 61% of organic produce sold in the US is domestic. Bananas are the most popular organic fruit purchased in the US yet their are no domestic commercial banana farms in the US. Also I really have no desire to be locavore, just looking for the healthiest most nutrient dense foods without any toxic chemical residue.

        • Geez; I can’t even stand to read your ungrammatical posts. Like an 8th grade dropout with your grammatical and spelling errors. You really want credibility? Go back and learn spelling and grammar.

          • Wow, that was horrible. Sorry. Hope you got the gist of what I was attempting to communicate. Because that is really all that matters. Anyway, thanks for bringing that to my attention.

          • Actually, I ignore the painful misspellings and contractions, and rewrite it, and … well, no, I don’t get the gist. Your make no sense. Even if you used correct spelling and English.

          • Here’s algebra 101. When working an equation on percent of organics imported or domestic, conventional crops that are imported are irelivent.

      • I always have to snicker at the “locally grown” advocates. Usually when I ask how they manage to get their coconuts, coffee, mangoes, and pineapple locally all I hear is crickets.

    • Natural pesticides are also not as effective at not harming non-target species. It should be known that is likewise for conventionally grown versions of all that you site.

        • Can’t spell, and can’t even do the research. Lazy. But totally willing to spew hype, cuz — hey, you get attention, and that is what you are after. Not learning anything, not seeking information or clarification. Go back to junior high.

          • When discussing the worlds food supply, better make sure ya spell right, cause thats what matters. Did you read the article, do you have common sense. If organics represent less than 5% of crop land and declining daily, as Popoff states, than that alone points to chemical pesticides as the culprit in the beneficial insect decline. Remember this is getting worse not better. Typical shill, only listens to what his puppet master says, never willing to even investigate anything that would hurt the bottom line.

          • Clarity of communication reflects clarity of thinking.

            And then after than, basic high school science to understand the principles of causation and correlation, and study and understanding of common ideological logical fallacies.

            And then after that, political sophistication so you don’t have to keep referring to people as shills, as that indicates a pretty shallow bag of arguments to use on a site such as this.

            Perhaps Food Boob’s webpage and facebook, full of syncophants, might be a more welcome place for your singularly dull and shallow opinions.

          • In the end common sense trumps those trying to sound important. So you truly believe that dumping more and more pesticides, quantity and types, is better for the environment and peoples health than organics?

          • Okay then.. That argues for a switch to GM crops. Use of insecticides is down 10 gold since intro of BT GM soy, cotton and corn in U.S. While organic insectsude use on these crops, which is heavy, has not declined. Toxic herbicide use per acre is also down. So I guess a little common sense does trump lack ok knowledge.

          • Here is a metastudy from PLOS one on overall pesticide use: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111629

            Here is an article in leftwing Grist on insecticide use: http://grist.org/food/in-the-insecticide-wars-gmos-have-so-far-been-a-force-for-good/

            Here is EPA 2011 insecticide use report documenting downtrend: http://www.epa.gov/oppfead1/cb/csb_page/updates/2011/sales-usage06-07.html

            Here is USDA Feb 2014 study showing showing 10 fold decrease in insecticide use since mid 1990s

            Here is the chart in that document:

          • Here’s another chart showing not only decrease in pesticide use by switching to far less toxic pesticides when they are being used, mostly as result of GMO Bt crops:

          • If pesticide use is declining so rapidly why would Monsanto need to invest $1,000,000,000 in their chemical factory. I’m sure it’s not all for a bathroom remodel. I hear things like pesticide use is down and so many less people are starving. But GMOs have been around for over 30 years and I have not seen any proof that they are any better than organic, when it comes to these claims. So the true question is who is truly benefiting from GMO crops. I firmly believe it is just the seed and chemical manufacturers.

          • If pesticide use is declining so rapidly why would Monsanto need to invest $1,000,000,000 in their chemical factory. I’m sure it’s not all for a bathroom remodel. I hear things like pesticide use is down and so many less people are starving. But GMOs have been around for over 30 years and I have not seen any proof that they are any better than organic, when it comes to these claims. So the true question is who is truly benefiting from GMO crops. I firmly believe it is just the seed and chemical manufacturers.

          • By Pesticides I am reffering to glyphosate. Which has scientific studies proving it damages DNA, causes cancer, autism, infertility, and many digestive system diseases. What about that science?

          • Pick three professors of biology, at random, from an accredited university, and ask them their opinion of the studies posted on that website.

          • Do you realize how ignorant y’all sound. Its always the same refrain, if it doesn’t support GMOs it’s junk science, no need to even review and must be retracted. Y’all are just science denieing hipocrites.

      • That is actually a bigger problem than most organic advocates will admit. Some of the organic pesticides fall into the “kill ’em all and let nature sort them out” category.

        • Like Bt, which when “organically” applied to the outside of corn, kills innocent bystanders who aren’t eating the corn. So much for being earth-friendly. Wonder how that “organic” Bt on the outside of corn affects bees.

          • Yeah, that makes sense. I wouldn’t imagine many bees buzzing around corn plants anyway. Unless organic corn growers havek lots of bee-attractive weeds between their corn, in which case I am wondering if those bees, innocent bystanders between the organic corn just happily buzzing around the weeds in the corn, are affected (killed) by organic Bt application to the corn. In that case, that would be an irony that totally flips the argument about what kills bees. Just a speculation, though; curious. Anyone know?

          • Thanks, hyperz. I was wondering, cuz I would presume that bees, even if they don’t hang around corn, might hang around the flowery weeds that the organic guys have such a hard time with between the corn rows.

            If that’s indeed the case, is it credible to postulate and test whether bees that would otherwise be in organic cornfields because they are attracted to the weeds in the corn are at risk of Spinosad in the Bt organic application?

            If so, I don’t want to hear another uninformed urban organic yuppie telling me that it’s neonics killing the bees, when it might be their own precious organic practices that are killing the bees. Any data on this? Anyone looking at whether there are bees in organic corn, in the flowery weeds, that are being killed by Spinosad that’s administered along with the organic Bt?

          • The problem with bees in my somewhat informed opinion has nothing to do with insecticides, organic or not. And everything to do with poor breeding practices of Bee Breeders. They only breed bees for one trait, PRODUCTION, that is pretty much it. Bees are fairly inexpensive, losing a colony or two during overwintering is not that big of a deal, so over the years they never bred bees for disease resistance or hive health, and now the chickens have come home to roost.

      • Could that possibly be why even the studies that say there is no benefit of eating orgaic always come to this conclusion: “organic diets have been convincingly demonstrated to expose consumers to fewer pesticides associated with human disease.”

          • That’s a direct quote from clinical report “Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages” that Mischa Popoff linked to in his anti organic rant called the Organic Glass House. Inside the Organic Glasshouse is the original article where he started floating the 43% of organics tested positive for pesticides but he failed to mention the fact that almost all of that 43% still fell within the .05% threshold and still qualified as USDA organic. That information came from the USDA article called “2010 – 2011 Pilot Study Pesticide Residue Testing of Organic Produce” which is unavailable right now but used to be on the USDA website.

          • So it is Ok for Organic farmers to use banned pesticides if they test lower than the Organic standard? Hmmm…. Over 95% of conventional foods would also pass this limit.

          • That’s what you say and it’s not reflected in the clinical reports. You act like that 43% that tested positive for barely detectable levels that are within the .05% threshold is all fraudulent but if you look up the data it reflects that only a small amount of that is from deliberate exposure and the majority of it is due to failure to take precautions against environmental exposure. And incidentally, your claim that ” Over 95% of conventional foods would also pass this limit.” is nothing but what you want people to think.

          • LOL, your funny. You get all bent out of shape when your precious Organic farmers get caught cheating… And there is no way that it was caused by environmental exposures.

          • Bent out of shape? Nice try but deflecting from the facts doesn’t change the facts.

            Perspective on Dietary Risk Assessment of Pesticide Residues in Organic Food
            Charles M. Benbrook and Brian P. Baker
            A large, high-quality U.S. Department of Agriculture database reports pesticide residues in several dozen organic and conventionally grown foods on an annual basis, and supports detailed analyses of the frequency of residues in conventional and organic food, the number of residues found in an average sample of food, residue levels, and potential dietary risk. These data are used to estimate pesticide dietary exposures and relative risk levels, and to assess the impacts of the current pesticide-related provisions of the National Organic Program (NOP) rule. Fraud appears to be rare based on the available data. Most prohibited residues found in organic produce are detected at levels far below the residues typically found in food grown with pesticides.

            And incidentally, as FarmerJoe likes to point out “LOL, your funny.”
            It’s “you’re” not “your”

          • Benbrook,,, LOL.. Funny.
            You know where to get the data, just look it up yourself. 40% of conventional food have undetectable levels of pesticides, compared to 55% of Organic foods, not much of a difference. When they test conventional foods they test for 320 pesticides, Organic less than 200. If they used the same testing protocols they would test very similar. For example when they test conventional food they test for spinosad and pyrethroids, the Organic test does not include this and they are the most popular organic insecticides.

          • Wow, we’re actually making progress aren’t we! You’ve actually admitted that a larger amount Organic has undetectable levels of pesticides! Could you be a little more specific on the source of your information please? I didn’t find it. I would like to see a reference on this claim too:
            ” For example when they test conventional food they test for spinosad and pyrethroids, the Organic test does not include this and they are the most popular organic insecticides.”

            You’re knocking Benbrook now? You realize that the data in that study came from “A large, high-quality U.S. Department of Agriculture database” right?

          • “You’ve actually admitted that a larger amount Organic has undetectable levels of pesticides! ”

            I never said that, I said using 2 different testing protocols resulted in Organic testing lower.
            And yes I am knocking Benbrook, he is the king of one sided science, right up there with Wakefield.
            Benbrook got his data from the same place that you can. the USDA. Look it up.
            I have sent it to you before.

          • You sent me to the USDA? I don’t think so, when I quote it to you you spin it and minimize it. I’m still waiting to see your documentation on the difference between conventional and organic protocols and how that applies to residue detection to confirm or deny the integrity of the organic label. I see you guys spin it, as you talk about one sided science, which is rich coming form you!

          • More BS from the BS master. You never had to point me to the USDA, I quote it to you as you try to spin it like you just did when I documented the facts about the 43% of organic produce that tested positive for pesticides that were still within the USDA standards for organic as you attempt to spin it all into Fraud, which the documentation states it isn’t.

            But I’m still waiting to see your documentation on the difference between
            conventional and organic protocols and how that applies to residue
            detection to confirm or deny the integrity of the organic label!

          • The reason I quoted that article is because it confirmed what the USDA website did clearly stated”Fraud appears to be rare based on the available data” Are you trying to spin that by attacking Benbrook’s credibility? And incidentally, I only mentioned your spelling because your partner BitterJoe did it to me.

          • “Fraud appears to be rare based on the available data”

            The USDA promotes Organic, like Duh.
            I don’t know bitter joe

          • So now you’re saying that when the USDA comes to the conclusion that fraud isn’t the reason for the majority of the 43% of organic produce that that tested positive for trace amounts of pesticide residue, it’s because the USDA has an agenda to promote Organic? But really it’s all fraud according to you?
            Wow, that’s a new one!
            And incidentally we all know BitterJoe!

            Still waiting to see your documentation on the difference between
            conventional and organic protocols and how that applies to residue
            detection to confirm or deny the integrity of the organic label!

          • Yes I’ve already done the research and what you claim isn’t true, but if I missed it I would love to have it pointed out to me. But seriously, now you’re saying the USDA isn’t credible when it comes to something that doesn’t suit your agenda, but when it does suit your agenda ITS THE BOMB and the ultimate authority!

          • There is a huge difference between opinion “Fraud appears to be rare based on the available data” and evidence 43% of Organic crops test positive for Banned pesticides.
            Learn the difference.

          • Hey, guess what hyperzombie… the USDA just took down its report in which it admitted 43% of all organic food tests positive for prohibited pesticides. I guess they were embarrassed by it.

          • Really? Does someone have a copy of their posting, before they took it down? That is pretty disturbing.

          • Yes, I have a saved copy, as do many reporters I know. We’ll have to wait to see if it’s just a glitch, or if the USDA is embarrassed by the results of that study.

          • All the pesticide data was down last time I checked, they are just most likely just having server issues.

          • Yes, it could simply be routine maintenance. But it couldn’t hurt for everyone to call Miles V. McEvoy, Deputy Administrator, National Organic Program, at 202-720-1413, to see what’s up.

          • Hey, a long distance call might cost me a dollar (Canadian dollar about 4 cents US), is he on Twitter?

          • Stop splitting hairs John. Organic food is supposed to have a bare-minimal amount of synthetic pesticide residue in (ideally none), and hyperzombie is showing it basically has the same pesticide levels as regular food. Can you say “rampant fraud”? This is what happens when we don’t test organic crops in the field my friend.

          • You are not seriously quoting Benbrook, are you? HaHaHa! That is a riot!! He’s a known paid shill for organic. You knew that, right?

          • Would you be so kind as to show me the evidence that he is on the Organic payroll is please? And while you’re at it you could tell me who Organic is too please?

          • Benbrook is not a research professor. He was an adjunct professor who was recently fired from his job at Washington State University. He is not longer affiliated formally with the universe in any way.

          • John, he used to be an adjunct professor, which is not only non tenure, it’s as close to being a non professor as one can get. I can assure you he is no longer even that; he is not affiliated with Washington State University.

          • I just spoke to Chad Kruger who is the director of Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture & Natural Resources. He informed me that Charles Benbrook is no longer working there because his 3 year contract as a Research Professor expired on May 15th. Chad made it very clear that Benbrook was not fired. Chad also informed me that Benbrook is going to continue his research somewhere else but they don’t know yet and he will notify them by August 31st so they can forward his documentation and transcripts. The last thing that Chad informed me about is that Benbrook did have an adjunct professor position at WSU but the position he had at Center for Sustaining Agriculture & Natural Resources was as a Research Professor. Chad stated that he was not aware of his current status as an adjunct professor is.

          • I’m sure the rich activist consumers in Hole Frauds would love to know that … that they’re buying, and paying more for, banned pesticides, justified for being lower than the organic standard. Maybe we oughta also get Food Boob involved with this. I’d love to see her get her knickers in a twist over the banned pesticides in organic food.

            I’m just waiting for the day when Hole Frauds goes out of business for blatently misrepresenting the food they are so proud of. Maybe a raid on the stores would be a great idea. Get the press there. I’m liking my own idea here.

        • If you read the original of that carefully, it does not cover organic pesticide testing. In fact I don’t know if any organics ever are tested for organic-approved pesticides.

          • I take it you’re admitting that organic pesticides aren’t “pesticides associated with human disease.”

          • I am admitting no such thing. In fact many are much worse than synthetic pesticides. I am saying that they were not even tested for. Why aren’t they tested for?

          • “If you read the original of that carefully, it does not cover organic pesticide testing.”
            I see you guys spread that one all the time. Would you be so kind as to point to the quote from any legitimate source that isn’t associated with a corporate sponsored website please? I read that whole USDA clinical report and it didn’t say any such thing as they ignored testing for organic Pesticides.

  5. I’ll be the first to disagree in many ways with anything that Popoff writes.

    But no organic ag proponent has ever been able to successfully explain why only 0.62% of U.S. farm land is dedicated to organic production.

    It’s even less in Canada, and they allow industrial hemp production, whereas in the U.S. it’s a big conspiracy by DuPont that we’re not filled with amber waves of hemp.

    When can some city-dweller explain what all us farmers are doing wrong?

    • Well, I don’t think we can! We are city-dwellers (well, in my case, I live in a suburban area located in the country side….Switzerland being tiny, no countryside dweller lives further than 30 min. by car from the next city)! At most, we have small gardens or even just kitchen herbs and flowers growing in pots on the balcony!

          • well some claim up to 10% but that is $s, But Organic is less than 4% of the fresh food market. The highest Organic penetration is in Denmark at 7% and dropping fast, same with England

          • How about the US and Canada? Yes, the dollars are higher, reflecting the 2X cost or so over conventional (i did see organic pasta at 9.95/lb USD in Saratoga, NY !) but what percentage in tonnage of the crops do they supply? It has to be less than the % land dedicated to organic because of the lower yields. But is it in line with those yields?

          • Sadly, the USDA will not come clean on such issues. So here are a couple of interesting statistic for you on your question First Officer:

            Only 61% of USDA certified-organic operations are domestic, which is itself an abysmal statistic for an industry that claims to help domestic farmers. But… it gets much, much worse…

            Of that 61%, fully one-third are processors. In other words, there are only 2 certified-organic farmers in America for every certified-organic processor.

            Therefore, we can only assume that these processors procure the overwhelming majority of their ingredients from OUTSIDE the United States.

          • No, you can’t assume that, and it is a ludicrous argument based on bad numbers.

            In Iowa, almost every organic farmer I know is ALSO a processor. They have to be, because there are very limited options in the free market to get the job done. If they want to save any product beyond the fresh season, they have to process it themselves or risk contamination at commercial facilities. Local sweet corn grower had to build his own freezing plant to do his own crop, and now he rents it to others. Local veggie coop had to buy space to sort and trucks to move, and now they share that with others. Local flax-fed beef folks had to develop their own commercial jerky operation. Etc.

            Your numbers assume that there is no overlap at all between processors and farmers. That is miles from the truth. The reality is that a large number of farmers are ALSO processors.

            Yet another case of statistics being used poorly.

          • Wow. That is not true my friend.

            Organic farmers can process their crops, either for seed, feed or food human consumption, at any existing facility that undergoes a simple records-review.

            In all my years I have never seen a processing facility be denied the right to process an organic crop. If you have examples to the contrary, or can prove that a single organic farmer anywhere in Iowa has ever had a crop become “contaminated” by using an existing facility, I welcome you to provide evidence.

            ‘Til then… nice try Brett.

          • They “can” process them anywhere. But it is cheap to test now, and it is easy to find the residues. And people do, and then farmers get burned. I did not mention ONE WORD about any facility denying organic crops–nowhere in my post does it say that. But nice attempt to change the subject. Back to the subject at hand, however–FARMERS are the ones wary of them. They are doing their own processing to ensure their own profits and protections. They are doing their own processing to make sure it is done right, because they can not find people who will do it to their standards.

            But you still have not addressed the point–you are counting wrong. For your math to be correct, there has to be no overlap. That is clearly not the case. You numbers are inaccurate, so your point should be questioned until you have a valid proof.

            Nice try yourself.

          • Now you’re really digging yourself into a hole Brett.

            Please start by telling us… what is the threshold level for pesticide contamination, above which an organic crop can no longer be certified as organic?

            And what about GMO “contamination”? What is that threshold limit?

            More to the point… can you provide an actual example of an organic farmer being “burned” because he used a local facility instead of processing his crop himself?

            And, I never suggested any facility ever denied organic crops. I said no facilities are ever denied the right to process an organic crop.

          • I’m digging a hole? So far you are the one demonstrating you haven’t left the office in a few years.

            NONE of what you are asking is relevant. Where are your numbers? Is your only rhetorical tool to distract people from your weak argument? If you can not show that there is no overlap in processors and farmers then the point you made is utter BS. Either get the right numbers or admit you are making this up as you go.

          • Let’s sum up…

            No organic farmer has ever been de-certified for using any facility to process his organic crop. All he has to do is get approval from his certifier through a paper-review. Happens all the time, otherwise the organic industry would never have gotten off the ground.

            To hear you explain it, each organic farmer across the land has to establish his own processing facility or he’ll risk losing his certification. That’s like saying every tuna fisherman has to have his own canning factory and every logger has to have his own lumber mill.

            Just a tad absurd my friend.

          • Where are the numbers? At this point, why don’t you just admit your point will not stand up to scrutiny?

            I did not explain it that way. I simply pointed out reality. Many organic farmers are also processors. In places like Iowa, where there is limited food processing for anything but meat or commodities, many have to build their own. A number of them do indeed do it because there are no other options (you can list all of the commercial vegetable processing operations in Iowa on a single business card). Some do it because they want it done differently or better. I did not say every one of them did, nor does my argument depend on it.

            What I did say is that unless you have some numbers to recognize that overlap that clearly exists in the real world, your math is fundamentally flawed. And you have done nothing to prove otherwise.

          • Where are the numbers? That’s a great question my friend. Why don’t you ask the USDA?

            They keep track of the VOLUME of all other ag-products that are imported and exported. Why can’t they come clean on organic trade?

            You make a valid point that some farmers have on-farm processing. But that doesn’t begin to explain why there are so-few American organic farmers when the organic industry boasts sales receipts in the neighborhood of $35-billion a year.

            In any case, take your fight up with the USDA. Not me.

          • So is this your way of admitting you had no valid numbers for the argument you were trying to make?

            I don’t have a problem addressing the weaknesses in NOP, or with GMOs as a product in principle. The only “fight” I have is with bought spokespeople passing industry opinion off as some kind of supported fact. I do blame the USDA in part, but people like you get the blame as well for being just as bad on the other side of the issue. We’d all get a lot farther along if all the PR flacks stayed home and decisions were made on real data, not wild opinions, political philosophy, and lobbyist dollars.

          • I’ve said right from the start that the USDA won’t come clean. So we’re left to interpret the numbers.

            Tell me… why do you think the organic industry doesn’t just come clean and release the numbers?

            By the way, no one pays me. I am 100% independent.

          • Why doesn’t industrial ag release their numbers generally? Organic is hardly the cause of the problem on that one. It’s the 95% of non-organic farmers that drive that data policy, and the Republicans in Congress that added all that special secrecy language to the farm bill, not the organic minority.

          • Now you’re just talking crazy Brett. I guarantee you the USDA knows to-the-bushel exactly how much organic product we import versus how much we produce domestically. It has nothing to do with Republicans or non-organic farmers. Silly.

            It’s a cover-up, plain and simple.

            Nice chatting with ya’.

          • You make it sound like consumers put some kind of great value on the USDA organic seal. It is essential when you don’t know the product, but no one I know in the midwest gives a flying hoot if their organics are certified if you know the farmer. My meat grower is not certified and does not market as organic, but I know the meat is organic and hormone/antibiotic free. Whether the USDA seal is on it is irrelevant–in fact, because I know the farmer and the farm, it is probably actually better than what the seal offers. I eat bushels of organic sweet corn every year, but since it is not marketed to anyone, why would the farmer certify? Customers walk up to the farm and ask for it.

            There are millions in sales of organics that are beyond the USDA system once you actually leave the cities. This is also, one would assume, why they are pushing so hard for an organic checkoff. With checkoffs, the USDA counts accurately–they have to. But to assume that just because they have a program that they can count all organics is pretty naive. People who buy organic are usually smart enough to see some of the problems with the system that seem to so fascinate you, and instead of standing around complaining, they just go solve the problem. There are no books or records on that, and no USDA surveys ask those questions.

            And for someone who makes their living claiming the USDA can’t do anything right, you have pretty high faith in their record keeping abilities. I have FOIA’d millions of those records along the way–and I can tell you with certainty having seen data from multiple sub-agencies that they are not the data geniuses you portray them to be. Not even close.

          • You took the words right out of my mouth Brett. DO NOT trust certified-organic food found at a grocery store. ONLY buy organic food from a farmer you know because the certification system is totally corrupted.

            And, for the record, I have absolutely no faith in federal regulators. And on that note, did you read my article before commenting?

          • Yes, and I have read much of your stuff in the past. As I noted, you have some points I agree with every so often, when you truly get to the heart of the matter. However, too fast and loose with numbers and assumptions, and often far too much personal agenda, along the way detracts from the message.

          • Don’t hold me responsible for the numbers Brett. That’s the USDA’s job. And they’re ashamed of the fact that organic brokers, traders and processors have shifted to foreign sources for their ingredients, and have abandoned domestic organic farmers.

          • I don’t hold you responsible for the numbers the USDA generates–I hold you responsible for not having numbers to support the claims you make. You do not do provide numbers, and instead rely on logical fallacies and pointing to bogeymen “GMO critics” to distract from the real issues. You can speculate that has happened, and you can label it as such. But as someone holding yourself out as an authority, making conclusive statements you can’t prove is BS and has no place in serious discussions, and no one should take you seriously when you pull that.

            Why you think foreign sourcing for organics is some big conspiracy is beyond me. We have received more organics from Northern Mexico for some time than we have from US. That was NAFTA, not any organics policy, and has been known for years. We get more conventional produce that way, too. Because of trade agreements, we get more of EVERYTHING that way. You aren’t highlighting an organics problem, you’re highlighting a trade policy problem, and a labeling problem.

            Organic testing and labeling wouldn’t really change that dynamic much, either. You can put every USDA, or any other, organic label on produce grown in China and no one will ever take that seriously and believe it is organic. It would be 10x more informational for the average consumer to just label it made in china.

            I don’t think organic farmers were “abandoned” at USDA. They have been pushed aside, and they have been marginalized by Farm Bureau and big ag lobbying (who truly abandoned them), and by commodity farm groups supporting trade deals in the name of “farmers” that are bad for everyone else. But there are some programs done very well for them, too. And they increasingly get their share of handouts, and have subsidized crop insurance for all crops. And a checkoff is on the horizon (and all the data that comes with it). There are a lot of classes of businesses out there that would love for the government to abandon them that way.

            But not one of those aspects of organic ag becoming more integrated with farm programs and the USDA improves my confidence one bit in any organic label, or their data collection, at all. In fact, the more the USDA controls it, the less confidence I would have that actual science was the top priority, and that interference from people who are truly working against organic ag will only become more prevalent the deeper it gets into in the political system.

          • My claim is not only based on the high number of certified-organic processors in America as compared to the relatively low number of organic farmers. It’s also based on first-hand experience.

            Remember Brett, I was myself an organic farmer, and watched as our markets were taken over by Chinese suppliers. I also inspected over 500 organic farms, and heard the exact same stories. And, at present, most USDA-certified-organic grain-feed for the “American” organic dairy industry is imported from China.

            No speculation there my friend.

          • So? I could work on a car engine in 2002 as well. Does not mean I could open the hood of car and do squat today. You inspected for a few years over a decade ago. Being outdated is not exactly a strong argument point.

          • Outdated? The USDA NOP was passed into law by an Act of Congress in 2002 after having been negotiated in 1997-8. It has not changed since.
            Please tell me you know what an Act of Congress is.

          • So, you have not done an inspection for a over a decade, correct? I have two law degrees. I have not used either one of them in the practice of law for a dozen years. I would not be so naive to think the law is the same then as it is now, and that what I learned then is as relevant now. I am well-informed about the law and keep up on it daily, but I am not an expert on the law as it stands today and can not and would not give legal advice. Why do you think you can be out of the business for over a decade yet still be an expert on it? You barely even worked under the NOP, and took an 8 year hiatus in entirely different industry before coming back. At what point do we declare this cow milked dry?

          • Sorry… but did you have a specific point to make regarding my article? The one you’re commenting on? Some might read it and conclude that I am very much up-to-speed on how the organic industry works. But if you have evidence to the contrary, what are you waiting for Brett? Let’s see it.

          • You just made my point. I came in here to comment not on the article, but on the BS claims you were making about numbers that you knew full well did not exist. You finally admitted they are made up, and then turned to your myriad experience as a fallback. I did some research, and found that experience was basically your first job out of college 15 years ago, before most of the system you complain about was even in place. Most people do not count that as “up-to-speed”.

            But, in repeatedly turning to your “government sucks” arguments, it became clear that that is the primary message people pay you to deliver.

            I am not obligated to refute your made up numbers. You are obligated to prove the numbers you are claiming support your case. What are *you* waiting for?

          • So tell me, if you have no faith in regulators, why do you think they are so miraculous at data management? If they can’t manage the stuff that is their job, why do you think the federal government’s data is so superior? How is it these allegedly inept people somehow manage the impossible task of getting every bushel counted properly? If they can’t manage a list of tasks listed clearly in legislation, how do you think they are capable of managing a cover-up of international proportions?

          • Actually, you’ve got it backwards Brett. Data management is one of the few things we actually should trust federal regulators to handle. Determining whether or not a crop of “organic” soy in China is genuine, or safe, is completely out of their wheelhouse. And it shows.

          • Why would you give ostensibly the most important job in modern society to someone with no incentives in a system captive to the highest donor? Treating data management like some kind of government janitorial job is why we get hacked and have crummy data collection. The people managing data collections of that size should be making more than the Secretary of Agriculture if we really care about that data, and instead we pay them 40-60K at the government level and end up with mostly community college grads.

            The government should *collect* it and use their powers to do that. It should be *managed* by professionals with strong financial incentives (i.e., risk to their own money and careers) if they screw it up. Or, we need to raise government tech salaries — substantially — to get the people needed for the task at hand.

            And then we need to re-train most government employees on data entry. Data is only as good as the people typing it, and it is mind-boggling how many data entry errors can be easily identified in most any government data set. The quality of government data is directly related to when the employee typing it last read the manual to get the right instructions for handling it. How often you go back and update yourself on the manuals involved your life? How can we keep slashing salaries and basic government budgets and not expect the quality of the people doing jobs like this will not get worse over time?

            True science data–DoE, EPA, USFWS, NOAA, USGS, and other sources that are subject to peer-review and scientific collection standards –are a different story and different discussion. But USDA data is 90% not that.

          • I’m all for privatizing large portions of the USDA. In fact, the organic industry is already 99.99% privately run. The USDA AMS NOP is just window dressing, as evidenced by the its inability to tell us the volume of organic food we import every year.

          • I no where claimed that privatizing anything was a good idea. That is you injecting your personal beliefs into the debate and changing the subject again. Name one single instance of ANYTHING the government privatized that works cheaper and better than it did when the government was in charge. (don’t bother looking–there is no such example.) Private industry is not a solution to anything intended to benefit the public without profit–same people, same methods, different motives.

            The government should set the standards, the testing methodology, the testing regime and the reporting requirements. Anyone should be able to test and report results according to those criteria–businesses that are covered, interested citizens, NPOs, etc. Testing and data are not the purview of business and government alone.

          • Just to repeat, the organic industry is 99.99% privately run. Government plays no meaningful role. So either its an example of something the private sector runs better than government, or it’s a disaster. Take your pick.

          • So how is someone living in the heart of Chicago or New York or any other large metropolis going to find out who the good local growers are? Because I guarantee you there are plenty of people who go to Farmers Markets in these venues with conventional produce (either produced by them or purchased wholesale) and then sell as organic.

          • If they are going to a Farmer’s Market and putting an organic sign on conventional produce, have them arrested. They may be going to an organic market and giving you the impression they are organic (though there is no legit assumption I have ever heard that everything at a Farmer’s Market is, or is supposed to be, organic), but I doubt they’re dumb enough to put up a sign (if they do, just ask to see the certifications as well if you are curious). I did not say the seal was not useful for people outside ag areas–I said it is very useful for them. And I agree it is important to get a seal that really means something.

            I simply said that expecting that the government can count all organics just because they put a seal on some of them wasn’t all that valid an assumption, and ignored basic realities of the market. We all agree the organic program has some broken parts, and we all agree they should be fixed in meaningful ways.

            The differences come in that we generally don’t seem to agree on who to blame or how to go about that. IMHO, it was not organic farmers that introduced new methods of farming–it was chemical and GMO farmers that did that. THEY should bear the burden of their new products and keeping their by-products (pollution and pollen) within their fields, or incorporate the costs/efforts of doing so into their operations. Organic farmers and customers should not have to pay to subsidize industrial ag methods–and that is what I see as USDA’s biggest failure here. I am not sure why anyone expects the agency whose purpose is to promote industrial ag to come up with the perfect solution to this problem ever–they will ALWAYS have a conflict of interest.

            And for the city folks, I have no solutions, but can offer suggestions:

            1. Get out of the city on weekends. Farms that market to consumers generally have field days. Progressive farmer groups host them as well on many topics. Go to them, introduce yourself, ask questions and learn. Like all business people, farmers will go out of their way to assist people who go out of their way in return.

            2. I am baffled as to why there are not people tapping this market. Where is the Yelp for organic farms? Where is the innovative urbanite who travels to farms, blogs and does a little product testing along the way? Half of Brooklyn can’t seem to make a decision in the morning without consulting a blogger–how is this market completely unserved?

            3. Take in interest in farmers. One of the best relationships I have is a farmer I have never met. They had a tornado and did a kickstarter to rebuild their processing facilities (another farmer that had to do it themselves). I gave to that as a stranger and got on their list. Ever since, they have continued to offer the best deals and products to the people who came to their aid. Being interested in farmers, not just food, is how that opportunity arose.

          • They track food sales using dollar amounts, canada and the Us are still about 4% of total sales.

          • I guess we can back calculate. they use 0.68% of land and supply 1% dollar value of Ag output. But Organic costs about 2X. So, they provide about 0.5% of Ag food output. Hence their food yield is 0.5/0.68 of conventional. That works out to about 73% of the conventional yield, which is in line with most studies.

          • The problem with tracking Organic sales as a percentage of the market, is that some product shew market share, like Organic Milk and its products and high value Organic specialty veggies/meats/coffees. Some up to 10x more than conventional.

          • Here in Phoenix, organic milk sells for about 3-4x regular milk. Organic carrots about 15% more. So much price variation hard to compare sales dollars with actual volume of food products.

          • “Organic food sales” are supposedly at 4.2%. But that includes a lot of processed food, especially snack foods. Actual fresh fruit/veggie sales are quite a bit less. Don’t know if it is true – no data provided – but one article said that 30% of all organic food sales were munchies – like kale chips, “health” bars, and the like.

  6. To John Zohn and others re: Charles Benbrook. Here are the facts. Ben brook was let go (fired, terminated, contact not renewed) on May 16. It came as a huge blow to him but was in the works for years. When Benbrook was first hired in August 2012 and given the title adjunct professor (who he referred to as “research professor” although he did no research for the university; they later allowed him to use the term, though major news organizations, such as the NY Times as recent as a few weeks ago, knows the story and still calls him what he was, an adjunct).

    WSU hired him to establish a peer reviewed research framework for evaluating organic sustainability metrics (a rapidly. The program was initiated with funding provided by a set of organic industry donors with the intent that Benbrook would establish a base from which he competed for competitive funding. In the three years, all funding 100% of Benbrook’s salary and program came from direct the organic industry support—he is a bought and paid for shill–with no money coming from the university itself. From my sources, Benbrook’s work there was received as a complete failure as he was perceived as a crude activist with minimal serious academic research skills; hence his firing; WSU no long has any ties to him, financially or through an honorific title.

    Don’t expect Benbrook–whose known about the parting for 3 months–to come clean; he continues to LIE to the media about his credentials an university ties, of which he has NONE.

    Now there are no–ZERO–credible scientists supporting the aggressively activist science rejectionist wing of the organics movement. Hopefully real scientists on both sides interested in dialogue can begin engaging on these issues without warts like Benbrook stirring up nacricissssitic trouble. His bell has rung.

  7. Mischa, can you clarify the 0.9% standard in the Pompeo bill? Does that mean nine-tenths of one percent (very very low compared to other countries, and current USDA standards), or does that mean 9%?

    • No. It’s 9-tenths of one percent. In other words, it will be very easy for an organic crop to become “contaminated” by GMOs if this becomes law. Pompeo and the Republicans are either too stupid to notice, or they’re giving up on scientific innovation in American agriculture.

  8. The organic movement reveals the strain of conservatism that lies within many liberals. (And I’m a liberal myself). Moving to clean energy? That’s progress. Returning to organic farming? That’s a regression.

Leave a Comment

News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
Optional. Mail on special occasions.

Send this to a friend