In the latest edition of The Cornucopia Institute’s Newsletter, Mark Kastel – a man who thinks he knows exactly how American farmers should run their farms even though he himself has never run one – takes aim at the Heartland Institute, Hudson Institute, Stanford University, and little ol’ me. To take his word for it, we’re all a bunch of “conservative camp” meanies whose corporate “agribusiness funders” pay to gang up on the poor ol’ $33-billion per-annum organic industry.
And yet, would you believe that every time I have offered to debate Mr. Kastel in an open forum he ignores me?
True, he has appeared opposite me on radio, twice, but in both cases it was really more of an ambush. I was not told he was appearing until I heard the host introduce him, and I was not given the opportunity to respond to any of his more egregious accusations, such as his claim that I never worked as an advanced organic inspector under the USDA’s National Organic Program. So yeah, it’s a tiny bit ironic to see him take pot shots from afar.
Kastel claims USDA certified-organic food is well worth its premium price based on the findings of “studies by the USDA, Consumers Union, and countless university researchers, internationally, who have found measurable benefits from eating organic rather than conventional foods.” But he fails to cite any of these studies, not even providing a single hyperlink.
It’s not that he’s lying. There have indeed been many studies (some that were even scientific in their methodology) that demonstrate, in some cases at least, “measurable benefits” to eating organic food. But the results are so marginal that they hardly begin to justify the hike in price, often double or more the price of regular food.
What’s more, there’s currently no field testing in the organic industry to ensure farmers are even following the rules. And with the majority of USDA-certified organic goods sold in America coming from far-off lands like China, Mexico and Argentina – based solely on paperwork – consumers should very well wonder what exactly they’re paying for. They could also ask why they’re still being forced to subsidize an industry that’s worth so much and which relies predominantly on imports, but I digress.
Kastel also claims the organic movement is completely non-partisan. Again, he’s not lying. There are indeed Republicans as well as Democrats in the organic movement. But what he fails to explain is that most of the farmers – at least the ones here in America – are conservative, while all of the activists at the top who do business with the likes of the People’s Republic of China, are socialists, and proudly so; John Mackey the CEO of Whole Foods Market of course being the exception that proves the rule. As Laura Sayre of Yale University’s Program in Agrarian Studies so astutely puts it, “Organic farming is conservative small-time rural farmers making food for white liberal yuppie and hippie types.”
As I have endeavored to explain to Mr. Kastel many times, this is precisely the kind of salient distinction one misses when one avoids entering into debate, or even into polite discussion.
Consumers of organic food, meanwhile, do indeed cut across all party lines, a symptom of the fact that they’re all being duped by slick marketing campaigns — which, ironically enough (as alluded to above) we’re all forced to fund through our taxes. Heck, even Republican Rep. Steve Stockman of my home state of Texas – whom Kastel applauds because he made the gutsy move of standing up in committee one day and boldly declaring that “he and his family eat organic food” (step aside Rosa Parks) – has fallen for the ruse.
Perhaps someone should inform Stockman, along with Kastel and the rest of the gang over at Cornucopia, that the USDA’s National Organic Program is located under the rubric of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, not its Research, Inspection, Nutrition, Safety, Risk Management or Conservation services. Again, this is something that a simple, open debate would do wonders for clearing up.
Most laughable is Kastel’s claim that we at Heartland are all swimming in money thanks to “direct funding from Monsanto, DuPont and other interests in agrichemicals and biotechnology.” And he says this with complete authority because… well… he’s just sure this is the case. It must be! Okay?
Well this was news to me and my wife. So I immediately contacted our accounting department at Heartland to let them know I had not received my Big-Fat Check for this month, nor for any month since I became a stooge (policy advisor) with this august right-leaning think tank. And would you believe it? Those bean counters just laughed at me.
Come on now people! Mark Kastel, a “Senior Farm Policy Analyst” who directs The Cornucopia Institute’s “Organic Integrity Project” (but who rejects testing organic crops because paperwork is good enough) says I’m rolling in the dough. And I want my money by Jove!
Perhaps someone reading this would be so kind as to reach out to Kastel and see if he’d take us up on the offer to debate, in a public forum, with a neutral moderator, and with equal time for both sides. You never know. He might go for it once he finally realizes we’re not opposed to organic farming, just his version of it.
Mischa Popoff is a former organic farmer and USDA-contract Advanced Organic Farm and Process Inspector. He’s the author of Is it Organic? which you can preview at www.isitorganic.ca, and a policy advisor at The Heartland Institute, which is where all fat-cat agribusiness funders should send their Big-Fat Checks immediately.