Sunday, December 28, 2008

Liars, Cheats, and Thieves Hurting Us Again

Business runs on trust. TRUST. Period. However over the past several years the trust that the customer needs to have in the products she/he buy has been sorely tried.

It did not start with the tainted dog and cat food from China, but that brought it to the attention of the American public. Since then we have had tainted baby food from China; tainted milk and chocolate bars from China. These were cheats that the Chinese do to their own people, and from what I read, the people who do them seem to have a hard time understanding that what they did was wrong. Luckily many more millions of Chinese think this is wrong, and are trying to fight back. This, however, is by no means a Chinese problem.

Here in the US and Canada, most of the tainted problems stemmed more from system contamination rather than malicious cheating. Escherica (E.) coli 0157:H7 in spinach, then in lettuce from all over. Then there were the E. coli infected tomatoes, but wait it wasn't the tomatoes it was the peppers, but wait it was none of those things. (I have read so much on this I think there never was an E. coli 0157:H7 problem, but I simply do not know.) The regulators made a hash of their testing and product recalls, wasting millions of tons of produce in the process, in a world filled with hunger. So we loose confidence it everything, which creates a major problem.

Now we have a major manufacturer of organic fertilizer using a prohibited substance to improve their "certified organic" fertilizer. California Liquid Fertilizer illegally cheated certified organic farms and their customers by tainting their fertilizers with ammonium sulfate, one of the worst of the synthetic fertilizers rightfully prohibited from from organic gardens. You can read here the story from the Sacramento Bee, Organic farms unknowingly used a synthetic fertilizer. This is a story that dovetails with our financial crisis: where were the regulators? This tainting of the fertilizer by California Liquid Fertilizer went on for seven (7) years! OMG! But it gets worse: The article says:
According to documents obtained by The Bee through a Public Records Act request, California Department of Food and Agriculture officials were notified of the problem in June 2004 but didn't complete their investigation and order the company to remove its product from the organic market until January 2007.

This is an organic grower's nightmare. Being told that something is organic, because we have to trust our suppliers to tell us the truth because we do not have a chemistry lab with a spectrometer to test the products with the OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute), WSDA (Washington State Department of Agriculture), which we stick to, or Oregon Tilth, or CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers),or other organic certification.

This is not the first time (or the second or third) that organic farmers who are doing their darnedest to keep their food organic are screwed by big business. In the late 1990's, Monsanto decided to these GMO wheat that was Roundup Ready (Roundup is something you do not want to use around food, it is super poisonous), and it crossed with organic wheat. These were field tests, out in the wind and weather. What did Monsanto expect? This was a major disaster that was also a cross between a fiasco and a tragedy. You can start reading about it in this report by the Canadian Organic Consumers Association Organic Consumers Association. An Update On The GMO Controversy from November 2001. However, it was Monsanto's response to the problem that is so egregious: I read that they sued the organic farmers over using their GMO, patented seed. The organic farms were decertified and had to go back to being transitional organic farms for several years. Here is a link to the sins of Monsanto Millions Against Monsanto. Read it and be amazed, or one of those other "A" words.

We work very hard to keep our food pure. So do the farmers who used California Liquid Fertilizer. One of the agricultural companies lied to, cheated on, and thieved from was Earthbound Organics. They are probably still the biggest supplier of organic produce, and millions of people depend on their organic vegetables. In the winter, when we have no vegetables, we buy them in the store like non-farmers, and we buy from Earthbound among others. Everyone throughout the organic food/value chain was betrayed.

The purposeful tainting of a product crosses all boundaries of decency: it is illegal, immoral, and unethical. It endangers people's lives. This cavalier attitude by those companies that perpetrate these cheats is so disrespectful of all of us. As a customer I do think about these problems as I stand in the grocery store or over the sink preparing dinner. As a farmer I fear this type of thing happening to our farm. As a business woman, I want to rip these liars, cheats, and thieves limb from limb. The ancient punishment of drawing and quartering seems about right for those who do this. No bailout bonuses for those guys. Do you think I'm angry? Oh yes.


Anonymous said...

Great relevance in many of your blogs and links for developing farmer-entrepreneurs in haskap here up north (, especially since it is a wholly new and untried fruit and market.

I've had a feeling that I should be looking for used equipment for the past month and read your Business Week blurb on such yesterday.

Thanks for writing. You're now linked with my blog and through it,


mjholt said...

Hi Craig,
Thanks. Good luck with the used equipment. We have found that the cost and time of getting it is usually worth the effort if it is no longer than overnight. I had a small ancient piece (about 60 y/o so not readily available) sent to us from the about 2000 miles away, and the cost of shipping was more than the cost of the implement. Plus there was a fuel surcharge.

Thanks for the link, too.

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