Certifications and Voting for a New Food Culture

Certifications and voting power in our Food Culture: 2nd in a Series.

This reflection regarding sustainable seafood certifications and environmental certifying agencies that have multiplied around our food system came to my attention when a follower of my company, CleanFish, asked about the adversarial stance taken by a consumer group, SumOfUs.org, against an Omega 3 supplement pills being sold by CVS stores across the country.

The question to CleanFish was whether the CVS claim that their Omega 3 pills boasted a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification was enough to carry the day. This was addressed to CleanFish, as we are in the midst of a marketplace that looks to us for authenticity in sustainable seafood issues. So, the question to us, as I understood it, was, "Is MSC for real?" Yes, MSC is for real, and the intention of those who I know in leadership positions of MSC is to promote a positive impact on wild ocean fishing and fishery practices for the better. In this effort MSC has made a real difference that is quite positive. And, in this case, a recent newsletter penned by my co-founder did the research to make clear that MSC is absolutely in the right in calling this Antarctic krill fishery sustainably managed...for now.

Still, the point is not to see the MSC seal on a product and go brain dead into blind acceptance. The MSC seal, and that of any 'green certifier', is to provide a snapshot of information and guidance. That is all it can do. The global food chains that our mainstream industrial food system presents to us is so very complex, often incredibly fragmented, and very hard to follow. And, what is also true is that there is, more often than I am comfortable with regarding these certifying agencies, a good deal of money involved.

We have let this happen. We, the consumers, have for the past three decades indicated, perhaps unwittingly, that we value no brainer convenience over a more thoughtful connection to the sources of our food. That lack of connection for the easy convenience of our food has been costly in terms of food security and in terms of our health.

Politicians have often played fast and loose with the funding for the government agencies responsible for overseeing the security and safety of our food. The FDA and the USDA have very diminished staff resources to do the job of really checking on foods coming to us from all over the world. This is a risky business. Candidly we are fortunate that we have so few food scares in this country. When you review the scale of goods and the numbers of food security inspectors and officials, how could this be otherwise? The lack of consumer safety overview is rather legendary in the matter of drugs, of herbs, and of substances you cannot pronounce that end up in foods lining the shelves in too many of our food markets.

The related problems resulting from the truly troubling multiplication of certification entities is who is paying them? And with what sometimes rather confusing agendas? As with our upcoming political season, the media and the campaign ad agencies are geared up for information overloading enough to make the eyes glaze and the mind go into victimized numbing states. Half-truths and false statements if made often enough start to sound solid. Often the certifying agencies that seem to multiply with each season fall into this trap as well.

We need take back our responsibility in all this. We live in an information age. We need to know more about what we are eating. We need to take back our responsibility as citizens to know about the sources and systems that affect our safety and security. We need to question any systems that are less than transparent, whether it is about GMO's in our food or the flow of money to the elected representatives in our politics.

As we are talking about our choices in a political season, we are present to discussions about future systemic policies that determine our economics, our education, our healthcare, and our food. While these issues come through television, it is not hard to mistake them for entertainment spots issuing sound bites. We need to know more about what really benefits us and which people or set of policies truly shares our values. Our future is at stake, whether that vote is a vote with our ballot for a person, or a vote with our fork for those sources that are generating our next meal.

Your vote always, and in all ways, matters.