Ammonium sulfate

You know all those delicious, chemical-free organic fruits, veggies, nuts, oils and breakfast cereals you’ve been buying and eating these last few years? Don’t feel so virtuous. Turns out, plenty of it wasn’t organic after all.

As we learned late last month, a Salinas-based company that supplies many of the state’s largest organic farmers with fertilizer got caught lacing its product with ammonium sulfate, a chemical additive that is most definitely not organic. (Thanks to reporter Jim Downing at The Sacramento Bee for the good old-fashioned open-records sleuthing.)

At least one-third of the state’s organic farms used the chemically spiked stuff from California Liquid Fertilizer, and that included such biggies as Earthbound Farm. Even the nonorganic eaters amongst us likely have purchased dozens of bags of so-called organic lettuce and spinach from this company, without a chemical care in the world.

It wasn’t Earthbound’s fault. In fact, the worst part about the ammonium sulfate saga is that, because of lax government oversight, it took more than two years for these products to be removed from stores for not being what they purported to be. The state Department of Food and Agriculture discovered that the Salinas company was adding chemicals to their fertilizer that long ago. But instead of pulling the company’s product off the shelves or arranging for an unfair-business-practices lawsuit to be put up against this company, the ag bureaucrats decided to … (drum roll, please) … negotiate a settlement.

The organic-food business—from farm to table—has always relied on trust. Now that big money is on the table with the $24 billion organic industry, it’s no wonder some people tried to take advantage. Hopefully, state bureaucrats learned their lesson with this one and, next time, will take the food off the shelves and the wrongdoers to court.