Is Produce Organic If It's Shipped by Air?

20071029airfreight.jpgThe UK's Soil Association, a nonprofit organization responsible for certifying 80% of the country's organic produce, has released a set of rules that govern whether it will certify produce that has been shipped by air. At one side of the issue is the fact that shipping food by air has a very large carbon footprint, and as such is not sustainable as a food-delivery mechanism. On the other side, however, is that 80 percent of the produce that is shipped to Europe by air comes from "lower or middle income countries," primarily in Africa, and so curtailing the means of delivery from those countries could have an adverse affect on their agriculture economies.

The Soil Association has therefore proposed two recommendations to allow air-freighted produce to be organic:

1.) All Soil Association–certified air-freighted products [must] meet the Soil Association’s Ethical Trade standards or equivalent fair trade standards by 2011.

2.) Businesses reliant on air freight [must] develop initiatives to reduce the amount of product they air freight [to] encourage people and businesses to be less reliant on fossil fuels for their livelihoods.

It's not the proposed rules themselves that are interesting here but the fact that there are any rules at all about produce delivery. The organic rules in the U.S. only refer to means of production, for instance the use of approved and forbidden pesticides. In part, this narrow view of organics has led to the creation of an "Organic-Industrial Complex" here, to use Michael Pollan's phrase. Perhaps the USDA would do well to begin considering such things as method of delivery in its organic certification.

What do you think? Do you think that the USDA could learn from Britain's Soil Assocation to create a more holistic view of what makes produce organic? Or do you think that the Soil Association is meddling too much, with the resolution of such issues best left to the consumer and the free market?

About the author: Jamie Forrest publishes Curdnerds.com from his apartment in Brooklyn, New York, where he lives with his wife, his daughter, and his cheese.

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