Thursday, May 31, 2012

The “Organic Watergate” Scandal

According to The Cornucopia Institute, the nation’s leading organic farming watchdog, the USDA and corporate agribusiness executives are involved in a “conspiracy” that includes “numerous federal violations, regulatory abuse and corporate exploitation.” The organization recently published a seventy five page report that explores the approval of questionable artificial additives and chemicals in certified organic foods and misappropriation of appointees to the National Organic Standards Board.

I’ve reviewed the report personally and was alarmed by several of the accusations, but two particular issues really stood out to me as having the ability to completely undermine the USDA’s organic standards.

First, genetically modified ingredients, or any ingredients manufactured using genetically modified substances as a medium, should never be approved under USDA organic standards!

Next, and perhaps most concerning, is the bias towards Big Food that the USDA seems to have when it comes to appointing members to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The NOSB was established under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (part of the 1990 Farm Bill). The United States Secretary of Agriculture set up a 15-member board to make recommendations on policies regulating the production and distribution of organic food and products. In order to protect the integrity of this board, there were strict rules put in place about who would serve on the board.  Here are the rules:
  1. four shall be individuals who own or operate an organic farming operation;
  2. two shall be individuals who own or operate an organic handling operation;
  3. one shall be an individual who owns or operates a retail establishment with significant trade in organic products;
  4. three shall be individuals with expertise in areas of environmental protection and resource conservation;
  5. three shall be individuals who represent public interest or consumer interest groups;
  6. one shall be an individual with expertise in the fields of toxicology, ecology or biochemistry, and;
  7. one shall be an individual who is a certifying agent as identified under section 2116
I urge you to read pages 5-8 of the report, and you’ll see that these requirements are at best being grossly manipulated and at worst completely ignored.  Instead, the USDA seems to be appointing executives from companies like General Mills, Dean Foods, Campbell’s Soup and Smucker’s to board positions reserved for farmers, environmentalists and scientists.

These and other accusations in the report must to be thoroughly investigated and swift action taken to prevent any further discrediting of the USDA and the organic food movement, which is why I took the time to sign this proxy and mail it to The Cornucopia Institute.

That being said, I am not against the USDA’s organic program. In fact, I think this program has done a great deal to bring transparency and integrity to the organic food movement. I know first-hand that there are many wonderful organic products being produced under the USDA Organic label by hardworking farmers and visionary business owners, and I couldn’t agree more with Cornucopia Institute co-director, Mark Kastel’s statement when he says, “we implore consumers not to reject organics because a handful of corporations have acted recklessly and the USDA has failed to do their legally mandated job. Organic farmers, and their ethical processing partners, need your support now more than ever.”