Last night, when I saw the news about the alleged presence of genetically modified cotton in 30% of H&M’s tested “organic” garments, I had some questions about genetically modified crops. I emailed my former professor, the food writer Fred Kaufman.
I was thinking of “The Nucleotidal Wave,” a piece he wrote about visiting the UC Davis Plant Transformation Facility, where he watched scientists shoot DNA at fruits and vegetables with a gun he described as a cross between a “1950s gas pump and a mini fridge.”
I assumed Fred would invoke some nucleotidal knowledge, but he actually sent me to “The Secret Ingredient,” a different, but no less entertaining, story he wrote for Harper’s about the kosher certification process, suggesting the kosher model might be applicable to GM cotton. I downloaded it from the sidebar of his website, and laughed out loud several times as I was reading it, but in the end I was a little troubled.
It seemed to me that the kosher certification process turned out to be a highly marketable myth based on little more than, well, faith.
Then this morning I read Julie Roads‘ comment on my original post on the topic:
…and I also think that, like most things, organic was very special at first, but it’s become so mainstream that people are now using it as a buzzword – obviously – to sell. They’re selling organic out which basically sucks.
Same thing is happening with food. The flimsy rules around what can be labeled ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ or ‘all-natural’ will make your head feel like cauliflower. And that’s just not pretty.
In the end, what do we get? The destruction of trust and, sadly, we end up not caring as much about ‘going organic’ anymore – because we have no faith in what it stands for.
So while I’m not entirely sure if this is what Fred meant when he sent me to “The Secret Ingredient,” I think both he and Julie are right: a lot of this is about faith.
We can’t go around testing our organic cotton clothing any more than we can taste whether our non-GMO grapes have been spliced with jellyfish DNA, or know for certain that our kosher Oreos are indeed kosher. Honestly, I still can’t quite figure out exactly what that means, much less what it’s worth.
But, as Julie wrote, it would be a shame for the manufacturers to sell out “organic” without even giving customers the chance to believe in it.