Certified Organic: A Way to Regulate and Promote Organic Farming or a Tool of to Exploit Small Producers? August 20, 2014

Red Whale Coffee recently had a visit from the State of California Department of Public Health Food and Drug Branch.  They inspect and ensure that we are following health regulations and protocols for roasting, serving, and selling coffee.  We were faced with an issue that we felt was an important discussion point; the idea of “organic” coffee. We learned in their visit that “organic” is not a term that we can put on our packaging or use in our explanations of our producer’s product or growing methods, even if the producer themselves are “Certified Organic”.  Red Whale Coffee is not a Certified Organic coffee roaster.  However we participate in Direct Trade, which means we promote the stories of the people who grow our coffee.  How can we adequately represent the skills and accomplishments of our producers if the word “organic” is moderated by government agencies?

Certified Organic is a difficult certification to achieve (Read more about this in our past blog, “Jumping through the Hoops of Organic Certification” http://www.redwhalecoffee.com/blogs/red-whale-coffee-blog/14320145-jumping-through-the-hoops-of-organic-certification-what-organic-certification-really-means-and-does-it-guarantee-quality).  A short recap – to be Certified Organic producers adhere to specified guidelines of growing methods.  This method is better for the communities of coffee, it keeps pesticides out of the water and it is kinder to the environment. 

We take pride in the quality of our coffee and the hard labor of the producers who grow coffee.  Battling Roya (or coffee rust), pests, and other disturbances to crops is a very difficult battle. If a producer uses organic methods despite those hurtles, they deserve that credit. We make no claims to say the final product is Certified Organic, but we want to accurately represent our producers whose livelihood is at stake by farming using organic methods to produce a crop that could easily be devastated by natural environmental occurrences.

At its basis, being able to certify “organic” can be an ethical way to keep coffee producing communities safe from chemicals, but becoming Certified Organic is a lengthy and expensive undertaking.  A permit fee paid to the State of California, Public Health Food and Drug Branch allows Red Whale Coffee to use the word “organic” to credit a producer’s organic certifications, without this permit the term organic cannot be used. What does this mean for the transparency that is promoted in Direct Trade?  The ownership of the term “organic”, resulted in a censorship that prevents us from accurately promoting our producer.  Was this what the altruistic intention of "Certified Organic" is meant to do? 

Red Whale Coffee stands by the quality of our products.  Our small producers work with everything they have to produce coffee beans that give you an exceptional cup of coffee.  When Red Whale Coffee stops roasting for the day, that is what we want to give you, an exceptional coffee. It is a fact that we are not Certified Organic and not all of our producers are either. Some use completely organic methods while others must result to pesticides to fight disease and insects, however they are all tied together by their quality.  We build relationships with these producers and learn their stories, we want to share these stories with you and celebrate their hard work. With that comes an ethical dilemma that people with power have developed; we cannot adequately represent some of our producers because a word has become privatized and regulated to garner profit.

We owe it our faithful customers and to our trusted producers to bring this topic into discussion.  A producer who is Certified Organic has paid with effort and money, but we learn today that we cannot tell our customers about that accomplishment.  Is there justice in that?  Is this censorship? This is some food for thought that we invite you to draw your own conclusions.  Fill your cup with some coffee and think on it.

Written by Caitlyn Prien