Mark Keating worked for the USDA National Organic Program between 1999 and 2002 and helped draft the first national organic standards for crop and livestock production. Throughout his distinguished career, Mark possessed a first-hand knowledge of how the USDA organic program was developed and the many challenges that it faced over the ensuing years.
Keating began contributing articles for CUPS in late 2009 and on occasion until late 2013. His writings remain just as relevant and insightful today as when they were first written.
Directly below are links to each of his posts on the History Of Organic Agriculture series in their order of publication. Following that series, are his posts in response to individual issues that cropped up in the news and that Keating reflected upon from his own individual perspective.
Part 1: What comes to mind when you see food labeled “organic” at the grocery store or farmers market? I asked one audience that question years ago, and a gentleman replied emphatically, “Nuts!”
Part 2: However insightful it was, the organic vision that Howard and his peers, notably Lady Eve Balfour in England and J.I. Rodale in America, had outlined by 1950 was incompatible with the changes then transforming commercial agriculture. The components of this transformation were not all that new – chemically derived fertilizers and pesticides were introduced in the nineteenth century and hybrid seeds and mechanized tractors became commercially available during the 1920s.
Each regional farmer group developed its own set of standards that specified the conditions with which a farmer must comply for their farm and the food it produced to be certified, labeled and sold as organic.
Part 4: Organic agriculture was becoming pretty big business, considering that the people making it happen had started out with little more than determination. The organic community – meaning the extended family of farmers, certifying agents, natural food merchandisers, environmentalists and consumers – recognized that some harmony and reciprocity between the dozens of regional certification standards was needed to avoid a Tower of Babel.
Part 5: Today’s discussion will pick up in the light of the morning after and the reservations – felt to this day – whether hooking up with Uncle Sam turned out to be as advantageous as hoped. A healthy match between the two has always been a tricky proposition, given the USDA’s top-down approach to decision making and the organic community’s commitment to consensus process.
Part 6: The USDA rolled out its first proposal for national organic standards in late 1997 and within weeks the verdict was decisive: universal repudiation, to put it mildly.
Part 7: The NOP itself was responsible the next time the organic community got sand kicked in its face, though once again a grassroots campaign snatched, if not victory, at least the status quo from the jaws of defeat. In the absence of any interest in the organic regulations from the political appointees, the NOP bureaucrats decided to start making and implementing policy pronouncements themselves.
Part 8: We must travel back to the 1980s to appreciate why and how the anti-synthetic and anti-agribusiness provisions were written into the USDA organic certification standards.
Part 9: This installment in our history of organic agriculture will explore the challenges and contradictions of setting livestock standards using the scandalous abuse of the requirements for pasture to illustrate the very real limitations of organic certification.
Part 10: Beyond the intricacies of the production standards themselves, the story of organic poultry certification also includes one of the more fascinating sagas in the relationship between the organic community, the agribusiness establishment and the federal government.
Part 11: I couldn’t resist this title for the concluding chapter in our history of organic agriculture. This lyric from the rambunctious odyssey of the Grateful Dead also conveys the myriad twists and turns that have carried organic agriculture from the countercultural fringe to the White House garden and shelves of Walmart.
The screenwriter Rod Serling was a master at portraying the acutely self-conscious angst that drove Americans of the Cold War era to embrace orthodoxy and conformity at the expense of individuality and liberty.
The Farm Bill is of critical importance but most Americans pay it little attention. That could spell disaster.
Four years into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, some Americans are losing confidence that the conventional wisdom at our disposal, whether liberal or conservative, is capable of restoring the financial security and opportunity we once enjoyed.
How has a technology as novel as genetic engineering so swiftly become a central component of global food and fiber production?
For better and for worse, the popular understanding of organic agriculture in America is inseparable from the environmental and human health risks associated with pesticides.
This post delves deeper into how one false impression in particular is fueling the sense of loss behind organic’s mid-life crisis. Specifically, we’ll examine how the exclusion of synthetic materials, which some within the organic community would elevate to a cardinal principle, actually threatens to drive farmers out of certification, if not out of business entirely.
After years of stalemate between public health, consumer, agricultural and food service interests on Capitol Hill, Congress approved the FSMA’s sweeping expansion of federal oversight in 2010. This post and the two to follow will provide basic background for answering key questions leading into a discussion of the merits of our increasingly centralized and standardized food production and handling systems.
The Produce Rule in the new Food Modernization Safety Act applies to fruits and vegetables that are normally consumed raw.
In my previous post, I skimmed the surface of the massive regulations which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed to reduce human exposure to pathogenic organisms originating from fresh fruits and vegetables. The draft Produce Safety and Preventive Controls (for handling facilities) regulations are the first steps towards implementing the Food Modernization Safety Act (FSMA) of 2010.