This Week’s Article

In Matt, Tuesday's Article on October 5, 2010 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

The Story of the Birth of Organic Standards– a didacto-fictitious essay on the origin and part-history of the USDA Organic Label

It was as though America started becoming reticent and everybody knew it had to be interested in other methods of agriculture and so Organic went and got pregnant to, in effect, force a marriage between itself and America to secure America’s devotion; but Organic Farming knew, deep down, that the other lovers were not going to be erased from the picture just like that and that it was something Organic would have to persevere through[1]

So, the Organic Food Production Act (OFPA for short) was conceived in 1990 and plans had to be made. 

Different family members, each with their own sets of interests, not all purely sincere but, rather, complicated, and nevertheless imposing, affected by the inescapable circumstance created when families members begin to collectively show concern, had to be involved.  Experts were consulted, magazine articles quoted, teams of doctors were selected, and interior decorations were picked out as Organic was tugged back and forth like a piece of bequethed ideological property for the next 12 years, which is how long the pregnancy lasted. It was such that Organic noticed a strange, persistent detachment, like the baby was going to somehow end not belonging to it, like there was no way it could ever truly love this baby; that, deep down, it knew it had made a mistake that it would have to live with for the rest of its life but could never admit that outloud and only to itself on ome hazy, gray level.  There were even many instances in which those family members who had the best interest of Organics at heart, appealed to it to get an abortion, because the whole initiative was corrupt from the get-go and would only end up ruining her life[2], citing America’s nature as unfaithful at its core, repeatedly reminding Organic Farming of its known history of westward expansion that only ever leads to imperialism[3], and not to mention what could it possibly hope America would ever do about all the cities America had built up along the way[4], all of which made America incapable of being a truly loving partner to Agrarianism[5].  But it was to no avail.  For one thing, held deep within its heart, as one of the structural foundations, the belief in the sanctity of life[6], Organic Farming was against abortion.  In addition, and regardless of all other reasons, Organic Farming knew, and had resigned itself to the fact, that it loved America and always would, in spite of America’s ways that it didn’t understand.

So, in 2002, after much to do and arguing between prominent heads in the extended Farming family and doctors and influential priests or teachers from its childhood that came to make up the 15 members of the National Organic Board of Standards (NOSB), the Organic Standards was born at 7lbs. 8oz., healthy baby, to America and Organic Farming in the Agriculture Marketing Services (AMS) ward of the USDA[7] under the supervision of their own team of physicians, hired especially to deal with this specific delivery and all future check ups as was dictated by the law within the Act[8], in this case, the team being the National Organic Programs (NOP).

And there you have it.  Organic Farming was handed its baby Organic Standards, no longer the endangered fetus OPFA, but an actual baby with an actual name protected by the Constitution of the United States, wrapped in the swaddles of the Organic Label, which the NOP applied after it was provided by the NOSB to replace the USDA’s normal swaddles and thus beginning another stage in the jockeying by the many parties[9] for influence over the future of baby Organic Standards’ development.  A few days later Organic Farming, assuaged and dreamy for the time being on the verge of settling in to its role as mother, unavoidable now, and America, conflicted by the truancy embedded in its nature[10], took baby Organic Standards home in its Organic Label.  The fear it had experienced during the pregnancy, that its love for its child would not be real, did not disappear totally and, as she also feared, never would, but was countered by a deep, immediate commitment to its little Standards’s well-being and acceptance that it, and Organic’s relation to it, would never be perfect.  It didn’t know what it felt, but for the first time in the past 12 years figuring that out was not its priority.  Mainly, it felt tired from the whole ordeal.

So, it is at this point that we reach more of a sojourn than a conclusion to the story of the Birth of Organic Standards, one of those “Not the end, but the beginnings” epigrams you see at the end of wedding albums or videos.  Life goes on.  And more has happened since.

Immediately after the birth some of those who had felt Organic Farming should have gone through with the abortion years earlier, sued the USDA over some of the synthetic pesticides, algicides, herbicides, and what not that it had included in what is called the National List and inserted with the Organic Label.  And that sort of debate continues to this day. 

There was a big fight when baby Organic Standards had its first serious illness and the USDA wanted to treat it with irradiation, GMOs, and sewage sludge.  America, as usual, did not express its opinion one way or the other, but Organic Farming ultimately heeded the advice of its more idealistic family members this time, and got the others in the NOSB to go along and deny allowance of these treatments.  Then there was a toss up over what to feed baby Organic Standards, organic feed or non-organic feed.  Again, it was as though America wasn’t even there (and it truth it was off spending the majority of its time fighting two wars) and again Organic Farming held out.  There was a discussion about antibiotic use on cows and it was suggested that there should be a time period after which milk from a cow treated with antibiotics can be labeled organic, which is a bit tricky because it involves issues about animal cruelty which may or may have not been one of the original concerns of Organic Farming true to its Agrarianism[11] but reflective of new moralities it had collected through its journey, which in turn recast light on the old ones.  This is the kind of mess little baby Organic Standards was born into and it is its inheritance, without choice.  But still, nobody can say for sure how it will turn out until the time comes.  Children, like good legislation, are robust.  And not everything has to be treated as though its completely the product of such tense relations and interactions taking place around it.

Most recently, Organic Standards, is moving into its toddler years, taking its first step out into the larger world and has made friends with the neighbor’s kid, Organic Products Regulations, or COPR for short, whose family is French Canadian.  So, already we see an expansion in horizons.

The moral?  It had that moralizing tone, didn’t it?  I’ll be upfront about it even though I wrote it.  

I admit it’s not an original story.  Maybe it’s the first time this story has been put to tune of contemporary government regulation on the agriculture industry, but I know what you’re thinking: That’s just window dressing.  And I know, an apologetic epilogue doesn’t necessarily make up for a story that, well, sticking with the natal analogies, is stillborn to begin with, and actually every bit of energy put toward completing it after the realization that it was so, was catering to the birth and nurturing of denial.[12] 

All I can say is this is what I wrote.  I was trying to make a point about the USDA Organic label and this is sort of spilled out of me, I guess, as the method of giving an explanation that came the most natural to me.  A story is just one type of explanation and if it’s not original then, I guess I’m ok with that.[13]  I don’t know that breaking ground is a necessary requisite to story-telling.

So, THE MORAL.  I guess it’s similar to what Hillary Clinton, who is not known to have ever thought much of the way Organic Farming or the way it conducted itself, or at least always was more interested in America, from the standpoint of an outsider, and not caring to venture too deeply into the drama of its indiscretions, famously said: “It takes a village.”  Sometimes, “it takes a village”, like Organic Farming’s village of farmers and trade organizations who are the concerned and self-centered family members, friends, and neighbors, doctors at the NOP and the overall medical establishment that is the USDA, etc., whether or not its best.  But I’d like to qualify that, if I may, by quoting another famous, perhaps more timeless politician.  “Half of the people can be part right all of the time. Some of the people can be all right part of the time. But all the people can’t be all right all the time.”[14]


[1] at least for an indefinite, but ultimately limited, time being when America’s inner, sinful passion worm had dried up, or so organics rationalized.

[2] at this point, any exposure to and sense of the trajectory of tragedy should inform the reader that this is the forgone conclusion

[3] stressing the issue, hoping it would break through to her

[4] whose very livelihoods would be at stake if America were to truly make the change and turn its behavior around

[5] addressing her by her childhood name in a heart-wrenching, last-ditch attempt to appeal to her original, innocent self, that they could only pray (an unsettling, ironic position for such realists) was reachable.

[6] coupled with a devotion to maintaining this belief

[7] presented here in lieu of its allegorical equivalent: a hospital and furthermore (within its symbolic reach) what you would generally expect from the administration of a major hospital, with the government set as the greater institution and infrastructure that is the medical establishment.

[8] OFPA, the original conception that lead to Organic Standards’ birth, as it is referred to in the codified law of Federal Regulations.  It is a very special baby indeed.  Although not as far outside the context of this story as you might think since Congress always mandates programs or staff to enact the initiatives of a bill (which I think it is required to do by its own laws or at least by its own internal referendums) and, in doing so, regularly calls for new ones to be organized or created.

[9] too, too many parties.  However, it is a circumstance that the baby’s life will never shake and will always have to be confronted…and, sadly, in collaboration with it (the very parties, the collected efforts of which create the thing that must be confronted).

[10] just as depicted by a Rolling Stones song.  The Brits.  Only an outsider can ever really peg someone in such broad terms.

[11] Furthermore, it brings up a paradox that calls into question the reality of a truly organic system of farming, which by its essence calls for integration with the world around it, a world in which now, antibiotics and other synthetic substances are integrated.  Not to mention the contradictions within the attempting to combine Nationalism and Localism.

[12] I want to just say here, that despite my tone throughout this whole story, I am not necessarily pro-choice, but still undecided about my views on that issue, which may be the best stance I, someone who at this point am so far removed from it compared to many others, should really seek to obtain, which, again, can be argued to be a pro-choice stance, but still is not.  I just want to get that out in the open.

[13] I think we can all agree that we are all taken in by growth and whatever its meaning to us that seems so important is, is most profoundly accessed in that dumb sense that we think its beautiful, and one of the things most associated with, and I think integral to this thing we think is so beautiful, is acne.

[14] Which is actually from a Bob Dylan song and not Abraham Lincoln.


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