Yesterday, a reader’s letter in a Florida newspaper began: “With unemployment, food scares and demands on food banks all up, the time is now for an organic revolution.” We’ve heard plenty of (bogus) claims that organic foods are healthier and better for the environment. But solving unemployment, perfecting our food safety system, and addressing food shortages? Sounds too good to be true… and it is.
It’s hard to blame so many shoppers for turning their backs on organic foods in tougher economic times. As last month’s California fertilizer scandal revealed, organic consumers can’t even can’t even be sure that what they’re paying for is actually organic. Today in Toronto’s National Post, an interview with author and former food inspector Mischa Popoff brought this home again.

"Any organic food comes to the market based completely on a self-regulating, honour-based audit trail," said Popoff. "My question is, how do you know anyone is organic? Even if they are doing the damn paperwork and paying the fee, there’s no way of knowing. "

Popoff also highlighted a particular authenticity problem that we’ve mentioned in the past: Much of the food on our grocery shelves labeled "organic" is imported from China, where few if any organic regulations are enforced with any rigorous guarantees:

"The biggest issue is, if you look at China, only Chinese inspectors inspect the farms. You will never see a North American inspector get over there. Then you really have to wonder what’s going on."

In addition to more testing, Popoff also suggests that organic farms should introduce surprise inspections.

But until those changes are made, the former food inspector calls the organic food industry "a big scam" and doesn’t believe it’s necessary to buy organic food.

Popoff isn’t the first to point out that organic food is “a big scam,” but his frank advice to consumers is a very promising sign. As more organic food inspectors join other experts, thrifty shoppers, and even some environmentalists in rejecting organic hype, the only “revolution” happening in this movement is one of transparency.