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Are Organic Food Sources Trustworthy?

Who’s checking imported foods and their labels?

Last week in Moms Talk, asked an important question:

The query followed the same theme as our previous week's inquiry . It recounted Jesse Saperstein's work as an autism advocate who's taking a stand against bullying and educating about Aspergers Syndrome. By free falling from an airplane, he has made a name for himself and for those who struggle with similar disorders.

The best comment came from Los Gatos Patch reader , a parent with a child who has Aspergers Syndrome:

"Overall awareness doesn't hurt, but I'm not sure it helps much either. I think one of the keys is training those who are neither bullies nor victims... the bystanders. If the bystanders would stop standing by, and would instead band together with the victim to let the bully know his/her actions will not be tolerated, then bullying will diminish. Training the victims on how to stand up is good, but often they don't have the skills to cope effectively in those situations. Teaching an undersized disabled student to stand up to bullies only goes so far. My son has Aspergers, but luckily he's big enough that teasing was relatively rare (at 15 he's 280 lbs. and quite tall).

"The root cause of bullying is usually the unhappy family life of the bully. The best way to address that is to teach and practice the values that keep families strong."

Now onto this week's topic: Are organic food sources trustworthy?

We shop predominantly at and have relied on them as one of our primary sources for natural and healthy food choices. In making the shift for where we shopped, what we ate, and the products we used, we have been rewarded with a more enjoyable and sensory shopping experience, better tasting food and ultimately major improvements in our health. 

So when this video about Whole Foods’ questionable organics was forwarded to me, I admit, it really had me going. I was frustrated, felt "taken-in" and overcharged. Even though we periodically check labels on foods, especially ones new to us, mostly we’re pretty relaxed at Whole Foods having expected them to do most of the screening work for us. 

We went through our pantry, fridge, and freezer and though initially relieved that we only tossed one bag of frozen vegetables, I decided to get online and look further. Whole Foods’ rebuttal by Joe Dickson, organic certification coordinator is posted on their blog.

Both sides have valid points and yet leave me with still more questions. Who do we trust? How can we be assured that what is stated is "the whole truth and nothing but the truth?" Facts out of context, can distort, mislead, and be inflammatory. The media is known for that on the one hand, and the USDA, being a governmental agency is not untouched by outside influences and agendas. This isn’t about bashing Whole Foods, I love them still and continue to shop there as our primary source. But how do we keep from becoming complacent with our food buying habits? It brings me back to the importance of remaining diligent and curious, reading labels, asking questions, making our voices heard, and ultimately voting with our wallets. Where do you vote?

Carrie Vawter-Yousfi March 28, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Great article and I agree! We need to be mindful of reading labels but also the boxes or stickers that are produce comes from. Just the other day I went to buy organgrs and a bystander next to me reminded them they're from chile and these organgrs in this box are grown localy, how'd a thought. Check labels, stickers, boxes from your produce, that my 2 cents. Coach Carrie
Kim Ratcliff March 28, 2012 at 09:53 PM
Wow, thanks for the eye-opening Mom's Talk. It's easy to feel “safe” when shopping at Whole Foods for organic produce but this is a good reminder to do our due diligence and check labels. We have been getting our organic produce from Live Earth Farms (www.liveearthfarm.net/) for several years now. They are an organic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm located in the Pajaro Valley near Watsonville, California. We split a small family share with neighbors and it is an affordable way to ensure we're getting what we pay for! The farm to table food is fresh and delish.
bi11me March 28, 2012 at 10:26 PM
Whole Foods is not an organic food source, it is a retailer who happens to carry a larger percentage of organic products than other retailers. By using your hyperbolic headline you choose to paint actual producers with the doubts that should naturally accrue to retailers, like Whole Foods, who use popular perception to hide sometimes unfortunate truths. The problem of imported foods, and organic certification both domestically and in international trade, has been a subject of concern for actual farmers since before the adoption of the NOP standards. Certification of organic farms in the US is of questionable efficacy at best, and is subject to very little oversight. That is doubly true for imported produce. There are many small farms who adhere to both the spirit and the law of organic production who are done a disservice by your insinuation. "Caveat emptor" may have been a popular catchphrase in ancient Rome, but it is no less pertinent today.
Gwen Reandeau March 28, 2012 at 11:29 PM
260 shipments of food being barred from China should raise a red flag. I personally prefer Lunardi's or Trader Joe's for my organic shopping.
Tim Stanley March 28, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Actually, "organic" labeling is at least somewhat misleading. "Organic" is not what you would think is "organic", but what the FDA says is "organic," and there is a great difference between the two. For those with a thick stomach only, Google the National Organic Program, Part 205; then go to Electronic Code of Federal Regulations.
frank welker March 28, 2012 at 11:34 PM
i only consume pot brownies baked in santa cruz.
Larry Arzie March 28, 2012 at 11:35 PM
Whole foods is a love hate story for me. I love the small sense of community there. I hate being the last one to get asparagus that is not from Chili. Perhaps their goals which used to be posted above the mens toilet can explain it all : first goal to, make money. From there on it is downhill. It has of late been removed. Perhaps free streaming while reading wasn't profitable.
Janis Kanter March 29, 2012 at 12:00 AM
Thanks, I'm asking more questions now. Janis
Tamara Archer March 29, 2012 at 12:08 AM
Yes, it's definitely not a simple answer. Among the points to consider in addition to organic is locally grown, carbon footprint, eating seasonally, how fresh/how old and nutritional integrity etc. Our choices may not always be without compromise but our decisions can be with intent and awareness.
Tamara Archer March 29, 2012 at 12:15 AM
Love that you're using CSA's. We've been using Farm Fresh to You for almost 6 months now and love it. They are a second generation organic farm Capay Valley, 90 miles northeast of San Francisco and love the freshness, convenience, and that we're supporting local growers as well as 'in season' eating. You can find other Community Supported Agriculture providers at http://www.localharvest.org/csa/
Bamboo Ilana March 29, 2012 at 01:39 AM
What happened to shopping at the farmers markets? Local produce, get to know the farmers and create relationships. Different organic cerifications have different rules. The CA standards are much more stringent than others. However, one of the issues with some of the CA organic rules is that farmers are not allowed to use any animal based fertilizers. That means they are required to use combinations of chemical compounds based on organic sources to nourish and replenish the ground. So we have a problem with getting the full nutrient value from organic foods. Fundamentally the cost for organic food from Whole foods is comparable to the farmers markets. The freshness can never compare though.
Jeanne Rajabzadeh March 29, 2012 at 02:56 AM
Great information, guess I need to take another look at the labels, no matter where I shop.
Betty March 29, 2012 at 03:16 AM
Tamara, I had the same reaction as you when I heard about the uglier side of organics. I was so happy to know that Whole Foods was doing all the heavy lifting in terms of providing "good" products. Now I know better. Like you, I still like Whole Foods. But I'm not as enamored as I used to be.
Irene Aida Garza-Ortiz March 29, 2012 at 03:59 AM
I think they are now more than ever.
Dyan Chan March 29, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Aghh ... all the things I read about food make me want to move to the country and live on a farm where I raise all my own food. Since I'm not planning to do that, I think maybe I'll just climb back into bed ...
Vicki Garcia March 29, 2012 at 04:24 PM
The bottom line is this: as consumers, it is our responsibility to understand what we are eating. We can't leave it up to a huge retailer who is out to make money to make choices for our health. Read labels. Do your research. Find out where your food comes from and how it is treated before it gets to you. Thanks for the article! This is always a touchy subject. :)
Tamara Archer March 29, 2012 at 10:13 PM
My objective is not to be hyperbolic but rather to be provocative, to create conversation and challenge my own and others' habits when they fall into complacency instead of vigilance. Anytime the government gets involved it brings with it bureaucracy, size, and influences that favor special interest and not so much the constituency it serves. It's anything but lean, competitive, and transparent. The quality and efficacy of our food source is a place to question and speak up so thank you for your comment and enriching the conversation.
Tamara Archer March 29, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Thanks for sharing your vote! Anytime I go to Trader Joe's I come away with great finds. This piece has reminded me, again, of the value of context as well as that what's not said can be as, if not, more important. So when I heard the number of shipments, I had to ask, "What constitutes a shipment?" Is is a 2 x 3 foot box or is it the size of a dumpster? Were 260 out of 500 refused or 260 out of 5,000? And whatever the percentage was, is that within the expected 'norm' of all imports or is it excessive? While 260 is a concrete number and 'excessive' an opinion, numbers can misrepresent and be misleading if out of context and/or not including the larger context. Thank you for your comment.
Tamara Archer March 29, 2012 at 11:03 PM
Thanks for the information Tim. I'll check it out.
Tamara Archer March 29, 2012 at 11:04 PM
Ahhh, a different crop of organic and natural. Thanks and enjoy!
Tamara Archer March 29, 2012 at 11:07 PM
I recently heard one of the best times to shop was Wed after 8 pm. Could be a demographic thing, who knows. But it may improve your chances of local produce :)
Tamara Archer March 29, 2012 at 11:08 PM
That's great and thank you for your participation.
Erika Taylor Montgomery March 30, 2012 at 12:40 AM
Thanks for making take pause of our food culture once again. I generally shop for my organics at a small local produce stand that also carries some groceries. I also like Trader Joe's as I find their quality to be equal to Whole Foods, but their prices are much more reasonable. This is definitely a 'buyer beware' marketplace and we need to remain diligent when looking at foods that are 'organic.'
Tamara Archer April 03, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Love the farmer's markets. I go every Sunday and love the mood of it, the great taste, and you're right, meeting the farmers, asking questions, and building relationships. That's what helps drive change and is a key part in voting with our wallet. Here's link to farmer's markets in Norther CA. Los Gatos being one of them! http://www.seasonalchef.com/nocallist.htm
Tamara Archer April 03, 2012 at 07:34 PM
You hit the nail on the head; remaining diligent and informed, and taking action where necessary. Thank you for participating in the conversation.
Tamara Archer April 03, 2012 at 07:43 PM
While it's not a perfect analogy, I can see I was in a prolonged honeymoon phase and I've moved into the day to day, aware, and practical phase of the 'marriage'. I still love them, just aware of the imperfections and moving accordingly depending on the challenge...
Tamara Archer April 03, 2012 at 07:49 PM
There are days when I'm right there with you and 'it' feels so big and overwhelming ~ and I question what can I do as one person... but that's why I love this column and tapping into the network of those committed positive change and healthy options. It's one day at a time and our voices joining together. Thank you for your honesty, humor, and perspective.
Tamara Archer April 03, 2012 at 07:55 PM
You're right, it is our responsibility. As we've become a global economy, thoughts, decisions, and practices of individuals, companies, and countries can and do impact others across our planet. Solutions are rarely simple, easy, or convenient. But it is our responsibility to be informed and make the best decision we can with what we know. Thank you for your participation.
Tamara Archer April 03, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Yes, sometimes it just takes a moment to pause, to consider what is our objective and does this 'x' support or detract and what are my alternatives. Thank you for participating and voting!

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