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0407 PD: The “O” Word

Brandon Covey Published on 02 April 2007

Recently, a dairyman asked me if I knew the requirements for becoming organic. Naturally, I tried to ease his obvious insecurity with humor. I told him that he’d have to let his hair and beard grow out and start wearing tie-dye shirts with sandals. I also told him I’d be on the lookout for a Volkswagen van, since producers have to use them as their primary means of transportation if they want to become certified.

Of course, in reality, it is a serious (and often sensitive) issue. Nowadays, it seems the line between organic and non-organic producers in this country is about as thick as the line between Democrats and Republicans. Not only are they severely divided, but they forget that they have to work together.

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I admit my family sometimes buys organic products. But we all feel the squeeze sometimes (of high gas prices, among other things), and our priorities start to differ. I would rather drink some milk from a cow that ate some alfalfa that had been sprayed with pesticide than to see my son go without that bike he’s been wanting. After all, there are many other factors that also affect health.

Now, the pro-“O” folks may say, “But your son is ingesting that milk, too, from that cow that ate that grass that had been sprayed.” And that’s fine. To use the old cliché: We’re all entitled to our opinions. At least for now.

On one extreme end, I’ve heard claims that organic foods have helped children go from borderline ADD to calm, focused students. On the other end, organic protestors will say that milk is tainted from untreated, non-antibiotic cows.

From a producer’s standpoint, organic milk will generally bring a significantly higher premium, but the associated expenses will often double. Figuring changes in net income with added feed costs and labor is a nice equation for any university mathematics or economics course, not to mention the tedious registration process involved. But it can be worth it for some. And we’ve probably all heard the whispers of co-ops paying premiums for non-bST milk. It would be nice to think that we could rely on good, old-fashioned honesty and integrity. I hope we can.

Still, the nay-sayer will insist that these strategies are only a way to stay competitive with the “big boys.” That may be partly true, but isn’t it a bit like comparing apples to oranges? After all, they’re both fruit, but they can have different markets. And if we’re supposedly “flooding” one, why not try to fill another?

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However, as an anonymous source close to me (my wife) points out, all food is technically “organic,” with the exception of minerals. The marketing pioneers of these “natural” foods were clever marketers to use these labels for their products. However, the words are starting to lose their influence, and many consumers have grown tired of hearing them. This is leading some organic producers to worry how long the “trend” will last.

The bottom line, in my opinion, is to produce and/or eat whatever makes you happy. When the dust settles, we’ll find that those “red and blue states” are really red, white and blue states. We’re all in it together. As always, God does the rest. PD

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