Make a donation with PayPal, VISA, Mastercard, American Express, Discover cards - it's fast, free and secure!

Home Page

Nonprofit founded in 1988


Is oil-transported food "organic"?

by Jan Lundberg

Organic food is a growing multibillion dollar industry. Anyone interested in health and good taste, as well as better environmental practices, prefers organic to what some of us call "corporate schwag."

But upon looking closely under the hood of this industry, should "organic" food classification be divided into perhaps "petroleum-assisted" versus "sustainable"?

Organic sometimes means small, local farms and gardens. It also means huge, distant agribusinessís production of monocrops that meet the minimum definition of organic. Either way, organic food usually involves a polluting component: oil-based transport.

Thereís nothing "organic" about petroleum exhaust coming out of huge trucks, using CFCs in the refrigeration, rolling down asphalt highways with "organic" food.

To complicate matters, the scientific term "organic" is supposed to mean "containing molecular carbon," so, gasoline is therefore "organic." But thatís not what is at issue. Interestingly, todayís big-business organic food industry deserves that original definition of petroleum carbon defining organic. Or is the diesel-fueled delivery of chicken manure to an "organic" farm not part of the unsustainable petroleum game? Petroleum (natural gas and oil) is running out soon globally, and is feeding an unsustainably large population of consumers. Petroleum use causes global warming.

The Sustainable Energy Institute in Arcata, California, therefore suggests that the misnomer "organic" be rejected in favor of two groupings: (1) "petroleum-assisted," and for a term that captures the intent of "organic," we suggest (2) "sustainable." We are asking organic food associations and the organic food community to consider these changes in terminology. Maybe standards could be improved in other ways to arrive at purity for sustainable food: double the time required for certification from three years, since using pesticides and natural-gas derived fertilizers, to six.

This proposal for sustainable food may get nowhere because of the massive amount of money being made, such as by General Mills which owns Cascadian Farms Organic Foods. So, we know we have to petition the government agencies to bring about a conversion to more truthful nomenclature. We will start with the state of California, where it all began and which has the most prevalent standard used for "organic" food certification.

Pedal Power Produce, in Blue Lake, Humboldt County, California, which utilizes bike-cart transport, earns the "sustainable" classification. For the Pacific Northwest, Sail Transport Network may reestablish renewable-energy based trade that may include organic produce. Kayaks can at least distribute seed with their limited space and slowness.

Does your "organic" food on your plate, or in your petroleum-plastic container, bother you by not being "sustainable?"

Good things out of the darkness:
One-Occupant Cars to Be Barred From Some Entrances to Manhattan

"Because of traffic jams that have spread as a result of security checkpoints, the police would begin to bar cars carrying only one person from entering Midtown and Lower Manhattan on weekdays."
- New York Times, Sept. 26, 2001.

We had heard from an Audubon magazine staffer that there were good things flowing from the tragic attack on the World Trade Center. Enforced car-pooling seems to be one of them.

Now for some renewable energy-powered trains! - ed.


Culture Change mailing address: P.O. Box 3387 , Santa Cruz , California 95063 USA
  Telephone 1-215-243-3144 (and fax)

Culture Change was founded by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit organization.