Chuck Robinson, Media Watch
Chuck Robinson, Media Watch

The phrase “dead mouse in her salad” always gets my attention when I hear it on the radio.

I heard it in mid-July on the public radio program “Marketplace.” Host Kai Ryssdal was talking to correspondent Stephen Dubner about an incident that happened while he and a friend were grabbing a bite in New York City.

It was a Le Pain Quotidien restaurant, part of a small, upscale chain founded by a Belgian chef. There is classical music, rustic wooden tables and organic food.

A woman at nearby table found the rodent corpse. What do you think happened?

For one, everyone there got their meals free. The correspondent said he talked to the chain’s chief executive officer, Vincent Herbert, who said he was horrified, but didn’t shirk blame. Herbert said the mouse came with the greens from the field (which sort of sounds like shirking blame to me).

However, his company was commited to organic practices, and this was proof the grower wasn’t using pesticides, he said, to paraphrase.

The woman with the rodent-infused salad said she was even more devoted to the restaurant and its die-hard organic philosophy. At least, that’s what the correspondent said. Then again, he was comparing this incident to the 2006 BP/Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, saying this is an example of transparency winning the day.

What hokum.

If whoever served that salad is still employed at the restaurant, transparency wasn’t worth much. If that manager accepted blame and then shrugged his shoulders, what good is that?

You can’t give a restaurant a pass for serving a salad with a dead mouse, and if you do it in the name of organics, you equate organics to slipshod growing practices that endanger people who eat organic food.

We seem to hold organic produce to a lower standard than conventionally grown fare.

In May 2010, the land of Birkenstocks and granola (California) agreed to step up enforcement of organic standards to meet national standards. Until the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted an audit, the attitude was, “this is good enough for organic?”

The rap is that conventionally grown produce is pesticide-ridden, no matter how much testing is done and audits conducted for verification.

I can’t think that pest-ridden salads are so much better.

In general, I side with people who suggest we need fewer pesticides in our environment. I remove dandelions from my yard using a soil knife to pop the weeds out of the ground.

However, being organic or a small producer shouldn’t mean the product is inferior. In fact, if it takes on the aura of produce grown by local artisan growers, it should be superior.

I am not in favor of letting small producers duck auditing requirements. I know it costs something, but we’re talking about transparency here, and it should be transparency that means something.

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