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.


  1. I am so sorry to hear that the poor little baby died. Scours are terrible. I only remember one case of it from the few years my parents farmed and that calf died as well. The only treatment suggested to my dad was to starve it until it tightened up. It didn't work. Please don't feel so badly. You did the best you could.

  2. MBJ, you are friekin' me out !! You respond so fast to my posts I'm starting to think you've taken up residence in my house in that spooky little craft room upstairs I never go in.

  3. Donna. Thanks for all that. What a complicated life being organic has become. When the movement first began it was just a matter of 'not using chemicals'; now it's become so government controlled that it frightens people off.

    So sorry to hear about your calf.

  4. I agree with Cro, using the word 'Organic' has become a complicated political minefield.

    Very sorry about your calf, Donna. You did your best with what you knew at the time.

  5. Cro and Chris...One more thing. In addition to the annual inspections fees we also pay .75% of all our sales each year to MOSA. I don't mind this so much as I call MOSA for advice often and they are wonderful but it is just more paperwork. The US does have many granst available for those with low income who want to be certified which addressess your earlier questions about the poor getting in on orgnaic farming. There are no grants for labeling COSTS that are charged to us by the locker. ten cents per label to write the words "Certified organic" and another 10cents to put a copy of the USDA Organic SEAL on our meat packages.

    So, when we sell this farm and buy the new farm producing only enough food for ourselves, we will remain chemical free but there will be no goverment programs, inspections, lablels of any kind allowed on our property. It will be a happy day

  6. I successfully treated a pretty bad case of Cocci in my goats this year a little wether about 2 months old started going down. I gave him a mix of Cinnamon powder, Basil, Slipery Elm powder and Oregano Essential oil. These are all powerful Antibacterial and Anti Viral herbs. I was giving it 4-5 times a day in a bottle along with his milk. It cleared up in 3 days. I hadnt had Cocci in any of my kids in about 5 years and had used conventional methods before that really stunted their growth.
    I am not trusting of aything labeled Organic because of the people that try to let things slide. I dont call anything I have organic but its as natural as I can possibly do..

  7. Tonia, Many thanks. Do you remember the amounts you used of each?

    I understand your mistrust of labeling but why do you mistrust ALL things labeled organic ? Granted there are shady producers and inspectors but certainly not ALL are corrupt. For example all our pork and beef is certified organic and my husband and I are meticulous about truth in labeling.So much so I make my husband NUTS.

    MOSA (our certifying agency) is well known for yanking the organic label from those who knowingly abuse the program.
    And what guarantee do you have that your "natural" products which have not oversight at all, are pure ?

    My bottom line has always been. KNOW your farmer, your producer, your store owner. There are good , decent reliable folks out there . Find them, buy from them and tell everyone you know.

  8. So sorry to hear about you losing the calf. Such a shame to lose a young one. It seems when a calf scours they can go downhill fast. Glad I have not had to deal with it myself. Take care and feel better.

  9. Oh Donna...we're so sorry for this loss. Such farm losses are inevitable, but my husband said to tell you that when you're in the midst of the problem, you just do your best while on autopilot with the knowledge you have. (He's a Deputy Sheriff, so he knows about having to make due without timely "back-up"). It's difficult to know when to call the vet. But, sometimes the best lessons come through heartache & loss. After my husband & I discussed your calf loss, he also said that even if things could have been done a bit different, the calf may have still died, especially since the decline was rapid. Your honesty is so touching. You are proving that the organic certification is not an easy road...making us appreciate the farmers of yesterday who did not have the over-used anti-biotic solution of today, but those farmers still managed to raise healthier livestock, overall. It's almost like our farmers are slowly going full circle...back to the farming days that involved LESS industry & fewer commercialized products. Your organic cerfication allows for better farming practices, but it's certainly not taking the easy road.

  10. Trailrider, yup we hate to lose any animal on the farm where it might have been prevented. And speaking of prevention, boy have we been busy, Naother post about THAT soon.

    Lana, tell your hubbie I certainly understand that autopilot thing. Its what I would go into whenever we had a code on the floor, You just do what you have to do and then review it all later. And it is ironic that we have to label the farming we are doing as "organic" when pre-WWII it was just "farming"