Sunday, August 7, 2011
Organic Certification; The Great Debate
The calf died. (Not the calf above. That one is just a stunt double) I'm telling you the ending now to save you the time of scrolling to the bottom of this post, I'm sorry to ruin the suspense but that's just how I am. I often start a book at the last sentence of the last chapter. I read the last sentence of a poem before I read the first word and I don't give a hoot if someone tells me how a movie ends before I see it. They are sadly all so predictable anyway, except for Sixth Sense, Even now, year later, the ending still surprises me.
So that's why I'm telling you the calf died. In a minute I'll tell you the rest of his story but first I must comment about some comments left in the comment section of my last post. They require more than the obligatory "Thanks."
To Lana who is the middle of planning for organic certification right now. Her questions were fantastic and deserve more attention than I can give in my blog so Lana...I will be contacting you very soon via email to hopefully help . I am no expert but I can share my mistakes and hopefully keep you from making the same ones.
To Cro, who wondered about the insanity of having to sell over $5000 worth of organic product before you were required to complete the inspection process prior to LABELING your products organic. Yes, its one of the most ridiculous parts of the United States National Organic Program (NOP). It has nothing to do with your economic status as you can be filthy rich, say as a GMO seed salesman, yet sell only $4900 worth of organic product in a years time thus exempting you from any legal action against you for selling products labeled organic without having completed the inspection. You do however have to follow all the NOP standards. BUT if no one is inspecting you what assurance do your customers have that you are following the standards ? The answer is none. Frankly I have yet to meet one single person who truthfully follow the standards, but elects to sell less than $5000 worth of product in order to avoid the inspection requirement. I HAVE MET several folks who label their products organic, knowing that they can legally do so as long as they sell less than $5000 worth but have no idea or interst in what any of the other standards say or mean.
Confused ? You should be.
Now to Chris who asked, "My chickens are fed 'organic' layers pellets, organic corn, and organic veg and are free range. They don't have a label and haven't passed any tests, certification boards or climbed the sheer rock-face of legislation (even if the produce they consume has).
Question is - are they laying 'organic' eggs even if they don't have a label?
Chris, the answer here in the US is...No, they are not legally organic unless your pellets, your corn and your veggies have all been CERTIFIED organic. In addition , unless you are selling less than $5000 a year you can not label them as organic until you have successfully completed the inspection. Now, if you feed them only certified organic feed and you follow all the organic standards and you sell less than $5000 then you can label them organic, but not CERTIFIED organic until you have submitted all the paperwork, paid all the fees and completed the inspection every single year.
AND if you were my neighbor, Chris, I would buy your eggs in a heartbeat because it sounds like you are raising some fine chickens and I bet those eggs taste fantastic.
Still confused ? Well read on.
The calf story. Last week one of our calves (6 weeks old) began to scour. (loose stools). We began adding an electrolyte supplement (approved by MOSA, our organic surveyor) to its milk bottles. A couple days later it began to lose its appetite so we started offering it extra water with supplements in between feedings, several times a day. It remained active with nice shiny coat, bright eyes. Next day, no better so we cut back on the milk offering it hay and grass which was hand fed. Each day my husband would move its hutch so the calf had clean ground and fresh grass underneath him. Another day after that we saw streaks of blood in its stool a sure sign of the parasite coccidiosis. Appetite poor, fluid intake poor so we began to tube feed it. (Fluids directly into its stomach via a feeding tube passed down its esophagus)
We discussed calling a vet. The next day it died.
Today we lamented that we should have called the vet sooner. We also reviewed everything we did and re-read important chapters in the book " Alternative Treatments for Ruminant Animals" by Paul Dettloff D.V.M. Seems we did many things right. Seems we also did many things wrong, Seems we really missed the boat on prevention.
It is rare for a calf to get sick on our farm so we did not have a good treatment plan in place. Instead we scrambled behind each symptom rather than working to avoid the next one.
We should have called the vet.
The NOP standards are very clear that you are not to use antibiotics or other non approved treatments UNLESS the animals life is in danger. We missed the rapid decline of this calves health and if we had sought professional help sooner we would have lost organic certification for that calf (not a big deal) but probably would have saved its life.( A much bigger deal) After a full recovery we could have sold her as a family milk cow or even had her slaughtered for our own meat supply.
Being certified organic is a whole lot more than a little extra dirt on a few carrots. It takes education, research and commitment. It requires eating crow publicly and admitting when you made a animal husbandry mistake allowing suffering when it possibly could have been avoided.
Next time we'll do better.