New “Sustainable” Label Offers Alternative to Pricey Organics

From the San Diego Union-Tribune via Daily Grist, an interesting new development in food labeling: the “sustainable” label, which certifies food as meeting standards “regarding soil management, water quality, wildlife protection and labor practices, as well as pesticide use.” The differences from organic certification: First, the price:

Supporters say the produce labeled as “sustainable” will be more affordable than organic fruits and vegetables.

“We’re trying to get to those consumers in the middle,” said Cheryl Brickey, executive director of Protected Harvest, a Maryland-based nonprofit that certifies produce as being grown according to the practices.

Brickey said too many Americans can’t afford to pay top dollar for organic produce: “We’re trying to break that barrier.”

Second, standards for pesiticide use, which will definitely make this new certification controversial:

Protected Harvest’s certification program does not prohibit farmers from using synthetic pesticides – one of the most notable differences between it and organic certification. Farmers are scored on their pesticide practices and are asked to do detailed research before applying chemicals. Less is better, but other factors are considered, Rominger said.

“If you can’t use chemical herbicide, you have to kill those weeds some other way,” he said. “One way is to go out with a tractor and cut them out, but that costs you money, too, and you’re burning diesel and you’re stirring up the ground and could be causing erosion.”

This one’s a tough call. On one level, I’ve got trouble with the word “sustainable” being applied to produce that’s grown with chemical pesticides and herbicides — it smacks of greenwashing. At the same time, though, I definitely understand the need for a lower-priced alternative to organics. Finally, I’m guessing we’re still looking at food production meant for large-scale distribution — once again, the issue of local food doesn’t get addressed here.

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