Thought those organic strawberries you picked up at the market are pesticide-free? You should think again, according to the Pesticide Action Network and several organic farmers in California. In a letter written to the USDA, they point out that most organic strawberry plants grown in the state are actually fumigated with millions of pounds of pesticides every year.
This problem stems from a loophole in the definition of organic produce: in order for something to be labeled as organic, only the produce itself needs to be pesticide-free. This means that before the plant bears fruit, it can be fumigated and treated with all kinds of dangerous chemicals. Because of this loophole, even consumers who are diligent in avoiding non-organic produce are probably inadvertently consuming produce from plants that have been treated with pesticides.
Though organic plants still have less exposure to chemicals than non-organic ones, this incident is shedding light into the hypocrisy of big-business organic agriculture. James Rickert, a disillusioned former farmer, explains it to the New York Times: “The reality is that a lot of the organic growers want nothing to do with organic plants” because it’s a financial risk. If the organic plants carry disease, then it could wipe out a crop. And since the producers can label it as organic anyway, why shell out the extra cash?
Thankfully, because of the efforts of PAN and its allies, this important issue is starting to gather steam. Hopefully, with just a little more pressure, policy-makers and pen-pushers at the USDA will realize that “organic” really should mean organic and actually keep pesticides out of our food.
Photo credit: gongar's Flickr stream.