Then the argument becomes what the standards are. When the U.S.D.A. announced the establishment of the official organic label several years ago, many small growers and retailers disagreed with the standards. They felt the requirements were lax and allowed corporate agri-business operations to make misleading claims about their food—for example, by allowing the use of synthetic fertilizers that were somehow still organic in designation, or by allowing growers of hormone-free chickens to feed their birds non-organic feeds. Those with more stringent ideas about what makes something organic are now discussing some sort of “beyond organics” designation.
“Most of us found that a little funny,” said Rabbi Mandel, when I asked him about the kosher pork tamales. “But the person in charge of enforcement did not find it funny at all. It happens. There was a jar of octopus with an OU label on it, too.” So how does something like that happen?
“In a lot of these cases, the guy who owns the food-processing company has no idea what the OU symbol means, doesn’t know what kosher is,” said Mandel. “He figures it must be a good thing, so he goes and puts it on, and sees what happens. He figures he isn’t going to get caught. But we have an army of consumers who look for kosher certification, and if they see something like this, they call us.” The certifying body normally has an enforcement department that will then approach the producer and notify him that their heksher is being used illegally.
Today, the supply chains for our food are global. Since you can’t personally verify the source of your daily diet, the value you put on IPP foods comes down to how much the overseers of the supply chain can be trusted to maintain the integrity of their claims. Once in a while, a cozening business owner will risk his or her reputation, as in the case last year in which cheap zander perch was sold as walleye on the menus of a number of Twin Cities restaurants. While not as dangerous, perhaps, as passing off a candy bar as nut-free to the deathly allergic, any self-respecting Minnesotan should have been mad as hell.