The Cornucopia Institute

The Cornucopia Institute, through research and investigations on agricultural and food issues, provides needed information to family farmers, consumers and other stakeholders in the good food movement and to the media. We support economic justice for the family-scale farming community – partnered with consumers – backing ecologically produced local, organic and authentic food.

10-Year-Old Girl Has Severe Allergic Reaction To Pesticides In Her Blueberry Pie

September 19th, 2014

Modern Farmer
by Dan Nosowitz


For the first time ever, someone has gotten sick from a pesticide used on the fruit that went into her pie.

A 10-year-old Illinois girl was treated for anaphylactic shock caused by a severe allergic reaction after eating blueberry pie, but for weeks doctors couldn’t figure out what caused it. Though she suffered from asthma and seasonal allergies, she’d consumed nothing, thought the doctors, that would have caused an allergic reaction. The doctors dug more deeply into the pie, and found their culprit: for the first time ever, a patient suffered an allergic reaction to pesticides used on a crop in a cooked dish. Read Full Article »

Zero-Calorie Sweeteners May Trigger Blood Sugar Risk By Screwing With Gut Bacteria

September 19th, 2014

Artificial sweeteners don’t have calories — so why are these mice getting fat?

The Verge
by Arielle Duhaime-Ross

Credit: Punching Judy

When artificial sweeteners are in the news, it’s rarely positive. In the last few years, sweeteners have been linked to everything from Type 2 diabetes to cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. Still, products like Splenda and Sweet‘N Low remain a cornerstone of many a weight-loss strategy, mostly because doctors don’t quite understand how sweeteners contribute to disease. That may soon change, however, as results from a study, published today in Nature, point to a possible mechanism behind these adverse health effects.

“Our results suggest that in a subset of individuals, artificial sweeteners may affect the composition and function of the gut microbiome” in a way that would lead to high blood-sugar levels, said Eran Elinav, an immunologist at the Weizmann Institute of Health in Israel and a co-author of the study, during a press conference yesterday. This, the researchers say, is bad for human health because when sugar levels are high in the blood, the body can’t break it down, so it ends up being stored as fat. Read Full Article »

Cornucopia: USDA Maintains Pattern of Corporate Appointments

September 18th, 2014

Organic Governance Undermined by
Cozy Relationship with Agribusiness Lobbyists

One of the nation’s preeminent organic industry watchdogs, The Cornucopia Institute, expressed renewed criticism of the process used for the selection of four new appointees to the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).  The NOSB is a 15-member volunteer board composed of various organic stakeholders that makes decisions regarding any synthetic materials allowed for use in organic agriculture and food production and also advises the USDA Secretary on policy.

cornucopia-we-own-it-button“The selection process was conducted in secrecy despite requests to cast sunlight on the decision making and solicit input from a very engaged community of organic farmers, businesses, and consumers,” said Will Fantle, Cornucopia’s Codirector. “We think a more transparent process would ensure the selection of the best and brightest for the various vacancies on the board — instead of, once again, appeasing the organic corporate lobby.”

Cornucopia has been critical of past appointments that were more representative of the agribusiness sector than meeting requirements detailed in the federal law that created the board, the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA).  As powerful food processing interests have increasingly sought to add synthetic and non-organic materials to foods, the NOSB has become a focal point of controversy over what some deem a watering down of organic integrity.

Under both the Bush and Obama administrations the USDA has violated OFPA by appointing agribusiness executives, instead of those “owning or operating” a certified organic farm, to sit in seats intended to represent farmers. Currently, two of the four “farmers” on the board were employees of large agribusinesses when appointed.

“Congress deliberately set aside the majority of seats for independent organic stakeholders as a way to prevent the kind of unseemly corporate influence we have witnessed in recent years on the NOSB,” Fantle lamented.

Arkansas Egg CAFO

The new farmer-appointee, Ashley Swaffer, is an employee of Arkansas Egg Company, a large industrial-scale, vertically-integrated producer of eggs based in Summers, Arkansas.

“Although Ms. Swaffer may technically meet the qualification set forth by Congress, in that she is involved in managing Arkansas Egg’s operation, I doubt if Congress had in mind stacking the board with agribusinesses historically operating ‘factory farms’ as representing the nation’s organic producers,” Fantle added.

When learning she had been passed over for an appointment to the NOSB, Wisconsin dairy farmer Rebecca Goodman said, “I am a hands-on organic dairy farmer working with my animals and land every day. I guess I am not suave enough to serve my fellow organic farmers. After three attempts, I will not be applying again.”

At least four other experienced, family-scale farmers had applied for the vacancy on the board in addition to Ms. Goodman.

A seat reserved for an organic “handler” manufacturer was filled by Tom Chapman, a purchasing manager with Clif Bar in Emeryville, California.

Unlike the appointment to the farmer seat, which Cornucopia challenged, the farm policy research group articulated disappointment in the appointment of an employee of Clif Bar, a company that sells a minimal amount of their product line as certified organic.

“The USDA Secretary could have chosen a representative of a company that sells 100% organic products, rather than a company that offers manufacturers less than 20% of their product line in a certified organic form,” stated Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for The Cornucopia Institute.

The balance of Clif Bar’s other products either do not qualify for any organic labeling or are labeled “made with organic ingredients.”

Many companies in the natural foods marketplace can qualify for “made with organic” labeling by choosing organic for the majority of their cheaper ingredients (such as oats in a food bar) while sourcing more expensive ingredients in conventional form or adding synthetic materials that would not be allowed in products labeled certified organic.

In addition to conventional ingredients many Clif Bar products contain synthetic and non-organic materials such as soy protein isolate and milk protein concentrate (MPCs).

“Maybe it’s a general conflict of interest to have companies that are primarily involved in non–certified organic manufacturing, sitting on the National Organic Standards Board,” Kastel added. “Clif Bar’s product line is basically competing with companies, at a higher price point, that are truly organic. If they are using lots of ingredients that are not presently approved for organics, will they be predisposed to open up organic production for increased use of synthetics?”

In addition to Chapman and Swaffer, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack also appointed Lisa de Lima, of Grandville, Maryland, with MOM’s Organic Market, to fill the retailer seat. The Secretary appointed Paula Daniels, a Los Angeles lawyer who sits on a number of public panels, to serve in the environmentalist/conservationist slot.

Both Fantle and Kastel emphasized that their current concerns and disappointments are aimed at the USDA Secretary and the appointment process rather than the individual appointees.

“We look forward to working with all these individuals, and unless proven otherwise, we will assume, that their motivation to serve on the board is in the interest of all,” said Kastel. “We will support their volunteer efforts, just as we have supported all board members, with research materials enabling them to make good judgment calls on behalf of the organic community.”


“I have been waiting to hear from the NOP [National Organic Program] at the USDA about their next selections for the NOSB since September 1,” said Rebecca Goodman, a Wonewoc, Wisconsin, dairy farmer.  “I never dreamed that I would hear through The Cornucopia Institute.”

In 2008 and 2009, while converting their 800,000-bird operation to organic production, Arkansas Egg was the subject of enforcement actions by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Last year they signed a consent decree with the state of Arkansas and the EPA related to remediating problems concerning manure and liquid waste.

If there is a common thread in the new appointments it is the Organic Trade Association (OTA), the industry’s business lobby.  Three of the four appointees work for operations that are OTA members.

“For a volunteer board, the work of the NOSB is quite demanding, consuming 8-12 hours a week, and much more during the twice yearly full meetings of the board,” observed Fantle.  “We respect anyone who wants to take on this responsibility.  It is our hope that the new appointees will rise above any biases in their backgrounds and work in good faith for the entirety of the organic community and organic food and agriculture.”

Cornucopia recently released a scorecard of the voting records of NOSB members.  The analysis seeks to capture voting patterns over the past five years that encourage or weaken organic integrity, and it notes distinct tendencies from various stakeholder interests.   It illustrated a decisive split between legitimate farmers, representatives of nonprofit organizations, and other independent stakeholders, as opposed to members of the NOSB representing corporate agribusiness. It can be found at:

California Guide to Labor Laws for Small Farms

September 18th, 2014

Farm Commons
by Rachel Armstrong

CA Guide to LaborNCAT/ATTRA, in collaboration with California Farmlink, has produced a booklet that outlines the things all growers should know about labor regs, and use of volunteers, apprentices, and interns.  This free publication can be found at:

The guide is intended to help farmers become familiar with the labor laws that govern California agriculture as they pertain to having someone work on your farm, whether in an educational capacity or not. It includes basic information about farm labor law as well as discussion of alternative options for small growers who host interns or have an apprenticeship program.

While this guide is written for California and does not discuss the labor laws in other states, the information on federal laws and alternative options may be applicable in all states and may help lay the foundation for understanding state-specific requirements.

For-profit farms that use volunteers are taking risks.  To further emphasize this, here is a story about a California farm that was fined $115,000 for violations extending from the use of volunteers.  Read Full Article »

USDA Ignores Risks for Farmers; Approves Dow’s Controversial Genetically Engineered Corn and Soybean Seeds

September 18th, 2014

Pesticide Action Network
by Paul Towers

Image courtesy of Lars Plougmann

Today the US Department of Agriculture granted Dow AgroSciences approval of its controversial new herbicide-resistant, genetically engineered corn and soybean seeds known as Enlist. The seeds have been engineered to withstand applications of the toxic herbicide, 2,4-D. Using Dow AgroScience’s projections in its final report, USDA predicts 2,4-D use in corn and soybean production to increase between 500% and 1,400% from 2011 to 2020, depending on farmers’ practices and changes in Dow’s share of corn and soybean seed markets.

Dow’s proposed introduction of the 2,4-D-resistant seeds two years ago immediately unleashed a firestorm of protest, with nearly half a million farmers, farmworkers, health professionals and concerned individuals from across the country voicing opposition. Fruit and vegetable farmers are particularly concerned that 2,4-D drift will lead to frequent and extensive crop damage. However, USDA continues to ignore the crop damage likely to accompany the projected increase in 2,4-D use. Instead, the agency is focused exclusively on whether the seeds themselves—but not the herbicides that go with them—might pose a threat to other crop plants. Read Full Article »

The Cornucopia Institute
P.O. Box 126 Cornucopia, Wisconsin 54827
Ph: 608-625-2000