Florida Organic Growers: Insuring High Standards for a Multi-Billion Dollar International Industry
Feb 29, 2016 02:44PM
● By Linda Sechrist
A deafening quiet prevailed in the watermelon field the day that Marty Mesh, one of the most influential people in the organic industry, asked his farming partner, “What do you think about the effort to go to Congress to propose that they pass a law and set national standards, as well as guidelines for organic farming?’
Today, the Executive Director of Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers (FOG), Mesh recalls his partner’s retort: “Tell me one good thing that the USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] has done that has been good for a farm like ours.”
Mesh’s answer, “ I will make this different. It will be good for growing organic agriculture.” An expert in sustainable agriculture, it never occurred to Mesh while he was helping to establish Bellevue Gardens, in Archer, Florida, that the knowledge and expertise he and other organic farmers were gaining through their methods would eventually become USDA organic farming standards covering soil, water, quality, pest control, livestock practices and rules for food additives. “Since the day Congress signed the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, I have come to understand just how important it is to be careful about what you promise your friends,” quips Mesh.
Most industries run away from government regulations; however Mesh knew that the organic industry needed a federal law and regulations to create uniformity and consistently and to provide an enforcement mechanism with teeth. “Before 1990, there was no national uniformity, no consistency in the certification process. Anyone could label their product or its ingredients organic and charge more even if it wasn’t organic,” advises Mesh. Organic agriculture uses methods that preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics. Organic farmers, ranchers and food processors now follow a defined set of standards to produce organic food and fiber.“FOG members were all happy with setting the highest standards on the planet. But we have to be foresighted and vigilant that they don’t get watered down,” says Mesh. “We had to push back against the Georgia poultry industry when a Georgia congressman proposed that a special rider be written to the law. The congressman felt that when the poultry industry couldn’t locate a source for organic corn or soybeans for the chickens to eat, they could still label their eggs organic. It was FOG’s intent that the standards would create niches for organic farmers to fill. They would grow ingredients needed by the industry—in this case, the organic feed for livestock. Saying that they couldn’t find a source or that it’s too expensive isn’t a reason to water down the standard,” explains Mesh, who co-produced What’s Organic About Organic?
The film looks at why organic produce and products are worth more than their conventional rivals, as well as why organic is better for the planet and for human health. “There are people who are still wondering if organic is just a cute marketing label or if it’s a passing fad. It’s neither,” clarifies Mesh.
In 2001, FOG received its USDA accreditation to certify farms as organic under its certification program, Quality Certification Services (QCS). Today, QCS offers USDA and ANSI ISO Guide 17065-accredited certification options for farming of crops, livestock, aquaculture, animal feed manufacturing, packing, handling and processing and wild harvest operations. As the largest certifier on the eastern seaboard, QCS meets the needs of operations regardless of type, location or size. QCS offers the following certification options: Certified Organic, Certified Transitional, Certified Hormone/Antibiotic-Free, Organic Aquaculture, specific trade practices, and Food Justice Certification, which will allow for consumers to choose to support a more just agricultural system.
Marty Mesh will speak at the Food & Thought second annual Health Freedom Expo. For more information on Florida Organic Growers, visit FogInfo.org.