There's a fascinating article in the NYTimes about the problems that have arisen as big organic agriculture has grown: Organic Agriculture May Be Outgrowing Its Ideals
Check it out!
Some of the most interesting excerpts:
The upsides for the economy of some of the parts of Mexico that export organic produce to the U.S.: "They also point out that the organic business has transformed what was
once a poor area of subsistence farms and where even the low-paying jobs
in the tourist hotels and restaurants in nearby Cabo San Lucas have
become scarcer during the recession."
The limits of the organic label: Organic produce has to be grown without synthetic fertilizers, hormones, and pesticides, but "the checklist makes few specific demands
for what would broadly be called environmental sustainability, even
though the 1990 law
that created the standards was intended to promote ecological balance
and biodiversity as well as soil and water health."
Attempts to modify "organic" to embody a larger sense of sustainability: "And last
year the Agriculture Department’s National Organic Standards Board revised its rules
to require that for an “organic milk” label, cows had to be at least
partly fed by grazing in open pastures rather than standing full time in
The many players involved in these large-scale decisions about the food system: "But each decision to narrow the definition of “organic” involves an
inevitable tug-of-war among farmers, food producers, supermarkets and
Consumers' narrow understanding of what's good about organics: "While the original organic ideal was to eat only local, seasonal
produce, shoppers who buy their organics at supermarkets, from Whole
Foods to Walmart, expect to find tomatoes in December and are very
sensitive to price."
The inevitable limits of seasonality (which we just can't accept!): "Few areas
in the United States can farm organic produce in the winter without
resorting to energy-guzzling hothouses. In addition, American labor
costs are high."
Water scarcity and American dominance: Organic farming in Mexico depletes already suffering aquifers, "Many growers blame tourist development — hotels and golf courses — for
the water scarcity, and this has been a major problem in coastal areas.
But farming can also be a significant drain...The logistics of getting water and transporting large volumes of
perishable produce favors bigger producers. Some of the largest are
American-owned, like Sueño Tropical, a vast farm with rows of shade
houses lined up in the desert that caters exclusively to the American
While traditional organic farmers saw a blemish or odd shape simply as
nature’s variations, workers at Sueño Tropical are instructed to cull
tomatoes that do not meet the uniform shape, size and cosmetic
requirement of clients like Whole Foods."