Organics industry and privacy industry face similar labeling issues

See the full article in the New York Times at Has ‘Organic’ Been Oversized?

Like the food industry’s label for “organic” foods, the health technology industry wants to label or brand its products, like electronic records systems, data exchanges, health “apps”, and etc as “privacy-protective”.  Regardless of how far from reality that designation is.

This story shows that the federal law setting up an “organic” certification panel for food requires a FAR greater number of consumer and academic seats on the panel than are on the two National Health IT Policy and Standards Committees.  The organic certification panel requires the appointment of “four farmers, three conservationists, three consumer representatives”, for a total of 15 seats for non-industry representatives. But the federal government appointed industry people to those seats anyway. The federal govt. also appointed people who do not represent consumers or consumer organizations to the few consumer seats on the National Health IT Policy and Standards Committees.

But people who want health privacy are a huge percentage of the public: polls show between 75-95% of the public. This is a far greater percentage of the public than buy “organic” food.  Health privacy is not an ‘elitist’ product, as “organic” foods are perceived to be. Everyone is affected  by the lack of control over their health data and everyone cares about it.

A few key quotes from the story:

-The fact is, organic food has become a wildly lucrative business for Big Food and a premium-price-means-premium-profit section of the grocery store. The industry’s image — contented cows grazing on the green hills of family-owned farms — is mostly pure fantasy. Or rather, pure marketing. Big Food, it turns out, has spawned what might be called Big Organic.

-“The board is stacked,” Mr. Potter says. “Either they don’t have a clue, or their interest in making money is more important than their interest in maintaining the integrity of organics.”  He calls the certified-organic label a fraud and refuses to put it on Eden’s products.

-BIG FOOD has also assumed a powerful role in setting the standards for organic foods. Major corporations have come to dominate the board that sets these standards.

-As corporate membership on the board has increased, so, too, has the number of nonorganic materials approved for organic foods on what is called the National List.Today, more than 250 nonorganic substances are on the list, up from 77 in 2002.

-This sounds like the way the National Health IT Policy And Standards Committees operate:

o   The organic certification board has 15 members, and a two-thirds majority is required to add a substance to the list. More and more, votes on adding substances break down along corporate-independent lines, with one swing vote.

o   Six board members, for instance, voted in favor of adding ammonium nonanoate, a herbicide, to the accepted organic list in December. Those votes came from General Mills, Campbell’s Soup, Organic Valley, Whole Foods Market and Earthbound Farms, which had two votes at the time.

-CORPORATE APPOINTEES FILL CONSUMER SEATS, just like on the Health IT Policy And Standards Committees:

o   The Organic Foods Act calls for a board consisting of four farmers, three conservationists, three consumer representatives, a scientist, a retailer, a certification agent and two “handlers,” or representatives of companies that process organic food.

o   Cornucopia has challenged the appointment of Ms. Beck, the national organic program manager at Driscoll’s, to a seat that is, by law, supposed to be occupied by a farmer. Officially, “farmer” means someone who “owns or operates an organic farm.”   But Ms. Beck does not own or operate a farm.

§  Driscoll’s nominated Ms. Beck for one of the handler seats — but Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, appointed her to one of the seats reserved for farmers.

§  In contrast, Dominic Marchese, who produces organic beef in Ohio, has tried and failed three times to win a board appointment as a farmer.

o   Similarly, the three consumer seats have never been filled by anyone from a traditional consumer advocacy group like the Organic Consumers Association orthe Consumers Union. Instead, those seats have largely gone to academics with agricultural expertise and to corporate executives.

o   Katrina Heinze, a General Mills executive, was appointed to serve as a consumer representative on the board in December 2005 by Mike Johanns, the agriculture secretary at the time. The outcry over her appointment by advocates and independent organic consumers was so intense that she resigned inFebruary 2006 — but rejoined the board late that year after Mr. Johanns appointed her to the seat designated by law for an expert in toxicology, ecology or biochemistry.

To learn more about preventing health privacy issues and protecting your privacy, please visit our Health Privacy Summit website.

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