Cornucopia News Archive

A Tale of Three Farms—in the Shenandoah Valley

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

by Mark Kastel

I admit I’m kind of crazy. I don’t take too many vacations. But I do get out of my office frequently and really enjoy the opportunity to meet our members, and new folks, around the country while visiting their farms.

In the middle of August I was invited to speak at the annual conference sponsored by the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, an excellent group offering the assistance of lawyers to farmers who are involved in direct marketing when they are, all too often, harassed by federal, state and local regulators. As giant corporations sicken and, literally, kill our citizenry, some of our very best and safest farms are finding it harder to operate.

Rodney Martin

Before my speech in Staunton, Virginia, I met with two excellent farmers. This really pumped me up since I have to, figuratively, swim in the (organic) manure lagoons all too often when doing investigations of giant factory farms gaming the system. When I meet excellent, authentic certified organic farmers, truly walking their talk, it’s a wonderful morale boost. Read Full Article »

Industry Watchdog Asks USDA to Ban Use of Wastewater From Fracking and Sewage Systems for Organic Food Production

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

The Cornucopia Institute has formally called on the USDA to tighten federal standards to prohibit the use of fracking wastewater from oil and gas drilling for irrigation in organic food production.  In addition, the Wisconsin-based farm policy research group is also asking the USDA to ban wastewater from the nation’s municipal sewage treatment systems.  Solid waste produced by the same facilities is currently prohibited.

Fracking Wastewater Pit
Source: Faces of Fracking

The organic industry watchdog has launched a national petition drive to the USDA calling for new regulations to prohibit the wastewater practices.

Cornucopia pointed to research that shows that the copious amounts of wastewater, a byproduct of the hydraulic fracturing technique in gas and oil production, is contaminated with toxic chemicals and oil. Recent reporting has indicated its use in the growing of organic food in California.  Effluent from sewage plants, which co-mingles waste from domestic and industrial sources, can contain pathogens and drug residues in addition to heavy metals and toxic chemicals.  This is also a concern of Cornucopia’s. Read Full Article »

Watchdog Group Formally Challenges Allegedly Illegal Agribusiness Appointments to USDA Organic Governing Board

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

The Cornucopia Institute has formally asked the USDA to review the appointment of an individual to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) who, the group contends, does not meet the legal qualifications for the position. The 15-member board of organic stakeholders was established by Congress to provide advice to the USDA on organic food and agriculture policy and determine what materials are allowed for use in organics.

NOSB Members, Spring 2015

Congress set aside four seats on the NOSB for farmers, explicitly defined in the enacting legislation as individuals “who own or operate an organic farming operation.” Cornucopia’s request for review to the USDA states that new NOSB member Ashley Swaffar, a full-time employee of an agribusiness involved in organic food production, neither owns nor operates an organic farm. The government and industry organic watchdog made this determination based on Swaffar’s application materials, submitted to the USDA and obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

“We are extremely disappointed by the USDA’s record of illegally appointing unqualified individuals to various stakeholder positions on the NOSB that fail to match the definitions earmarked by Congress when they established this important panel,” said Will Fantle, Cornucopia’s Research Director. “The USDA has been inappropriately stacking the board with agribusiness executives to amplify the voice of business interests at the expense of other constituencies in the organic sector,” Fantle added. Read Full Article »

Whole Foods’ “Responsibly Grown” Produce Ratings — Not “Good” Enough

Monday, July 27th, 2015

PrintThis spring 17 certified organic farmers signed on to a letter to Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey asking him to withdraw the company’s “Responsibly Grown” produce labeling program, at least temporarily. The farmers, all of whom sell produce to the 400+-store high-end grocery chain, objected to having to pay for the grocer’s marketing program and to the fact that non-organic produce could qualify to be labeled “GOOD,” “BETTER,” or even “BEST” under the program.

The Cornucopia Institute supported these growers, as did many other certified organic farmers and consumers around the country. It was a righteous fight – what we called “Robin Hood in reverse.”  Here was a corporation, with a market capitalization exceeding $14.5 billion, asking mostly family-scale farmers, some of the best farmers in this industry, to pony up between $5,000 and $20,000 to comply with the program’s reporting requirements and, for some, purchase new equipment. That’s not an inconsequential amount for small- and medium-sized family farms.  And the added record-keeping labor could crush some mom-and-pop outfits.

But most of all, the farmers philosophically took exception to one corporation, hiring their own private scientist, coming up with a list of good and bad agrichemicals.  Most organic consumers don’t want to pick or choose. They buy organic and they shop at stores like Whole Foods because they don’t want to treat their children like laboratory rats. Read Full Article »

USDA Criticized for Organic Livestock Proposal

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Rulemaking Could Institutionalize Conventional Livestock on Organic Farms

One of Aurora’s “organic” dairies, each managing
many thousands of cows (producing private label
milk for Walmart, Costco, Target and others)

Advocates for organic food and farming are encouraging industry stakeholders to send comments to the USDA, by July 27, rejecting a proposal that would facilitate conventional dairy cows, pigs, and other stock being brought onto farms after the dairies or other livestock facilities initially gained certified organic status. The department’s National Organic Program has been accused of facilitating the expansion of “factory farms” producing organic milk, meat and eggs through the agency’s lax enforcement of existing regulations, and experts say the new rules could continue that trend.

The proposed draft rule is intended to discontinue a practice that many in the organic dairy industry have long claimed is illegal.  Giant factory farms, many milking thousands of cows each, have been buying one-year-old replacement animals and “converting” them to organic on an ongoing basis.

“This routine makes a mockery of the holistic approach to organic livestock agriculture that the law is designed to promote,” said Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute. Read Full Article »