The Challenges of Organic Certification

Once upon a time, the only question we had about our food was “is it edible?” If so, we ate it. Today, an increasing number of consumers have a lot more questions. Is it free-range? Is it low-fat? Is it local? Is it organic? These questions are (or ought to be) followed by a second level of questions: How do you know it’s free-range, or low-fat, or local, or organic?

Of course, the only way to know for sure that your food is organic is to grow it yourself. But you can’t feed the several hundred million people in North America that way, let alone the whole world. So we mostly rely on others to grow our food for us. So, when we want our food to have particular, (especially invisible) characteristics, we either have to trust the grower, or trust some middle-man to verify the grower’s claims. Hence, certification. But people tasked with certifying things (anything, really) just constitute another set of questions. How do we know we can trust their word?

From Food Safety News: USDA Bans U.S. Organic Inspector in China

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced yesterday it has banned one of the leading American inspectors of organic foods in China over conflict of interest concerns.

The now-banned firm, the Organic Crop Improvement Association (O.C.I.A.) of Nebraska, which had been certified by the USDA to inspect organic farms, was using Chinese government employees to inspect state-owned farms growing products destined to be exported to the U.S. wearing the USDA organic seal….

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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