Cornucopia News Archive

Eye in the Sky

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

Cornucopia’s Aerial Photography Investigates Factory Farm Cheating

by Will Fantle

idalou all barns 04
Chino Valley’s poultry operation in Texas is
estimated to confine hundreds of thousands of
laying hens in barns that appear to offer little, if
any, outdoor access, as required by organic law.
Cornucopia has captured hundreds of images of
massive “organic” livestock operations in 12
states 
(and counting). Click on image to enlarge.

When The Cornucopia Institute was founded in 2004, a primary goal of the fledgling organic watchdog was to draw attention to and rein in abuses from the rise of factory farm confinement dairy operations in organic agriculture. Not only were these industrial-scale operations squeezing out the opportunity for family farmers to make a real living in organics, they were also cheating consumers who thought they were purchasing a healthy food produced humanely with sustainable practices.

Cornucopia’s spotlight focusing on the scofflaws and abuses led to the loss of organic certification for several operations, as well as to the creation of a farmer and consumer drive that ultimately won the passage of new regulatory benchmarks for pasturing for dairy herds and other ruminants. Yet confinement-style factory farms, like a stubborn weed, persist in organic agriculture. These giant operations have become widespread and dominant in egg production, and continue to produce a significant amount of the organic milk.

Regulators at the USDA have been asked how these operations can be considered to comply with federal organic law. “The head of the USDA’s National Organic Program, Miles McEvoy, told me he had personally visited some of the huge complexes located in Texas that we photographed,” says Mark Kastel, Cornucopia’s Senior Farm Policy Analyst. “And,” continues Kastel, “he further told me that, and I quote: ‘all the farms we visited in Texas were in compliance.’” Read Full Article »

10 Years, 10,000 Members & 100,000 on Facebook

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Cornucopia in 2014: The Power of the Organic Farmer–Organic Eater Connection

[This story originally appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of The Cultivator, The Cornucopia Institute’s quarterly print publication available to members and online.]

Commentary by Mark Kastel

Credit: Dollar Photo Club

Some of our members have probably heard me say this before: Farmers have no clout in Washington or the marketplace. With less than 2% of our population engaged in production agriculture, after the presidential candidates get done kissing the rear ends of the ethanol lobbyists in Iowa during the primary season, you will never hear about food or farming again.

But organics is different. Although farmers continue to make up the base of our constituency and membership, Cornucopia’s secret weapon is partnering with millions of our urban-allies who passionately care about the quality and authenticity of their food and are willing to stand with farm families they respect.

Most of you who receive this newsletter are financially supporting our mission at Cornucopia. You have our sincere thanks. The remaining recipients, generally staff or board members of other nonprofits, have complimentary subscriptions because we appreciate their service to the organic community.

It’s hard to believe it was 10 years ago that Will Fantle and I co-founded The Cornucopia Institute, in response to the increasing corporate encroachment upon and erosion of organic values. While we are celebrating our anniversary, I thought I would mention a few incremental successes we’ve had lately: Read Full Article »

Nanomaterials in Organic Food? The USDA Is Looking the Other Way

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

[This story originally appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of The Cultivator, The Cornucopia Institute’s quarterly print publication available to members and online.]

by Pamela Coleman, PhD

Credit: dollarphotoclub.com

At their October 2010 meeting, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) unanimously approved a guidance document recommending that “Engineered Nanomaterials be prohibited from certified organic products as expeditiously as possible. We respectfully request that the National Organic Program take immediate actions to implement this guidance document.”[1]

As of today, the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) has taken no action to implement this recommendation. Engineered nanomaterials are being added to food, while consumers, who have put their trust in the safety of organic food, are being kept in the dark.

Nanomaterials are tiny particles measured in nanometers, or billionths of a meter. Nanoparticles have at least one dimension of less than 100 nanometers (nm). As a comparison, a strand of DNA is about 2 nm across; a red blood cell is 7,000 to 10,000 nm across. Due to their small size, nanoparticles ingested in food may move throughout the body in unknown ways. Read Full Article »

The Cornucopia Institute Is Hiring!

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

cornucopia-logo-MAKsigCornucopia is seeking individuals with a true passion and enthusiasm for protecting the integrity of organic food and agriculture, and the family farmers who produce it. If you possess an impressive track record, along with relevant academic degrees, in the areas of livestock policy, agronomic practices and inputs, food ingredients and nutrition, or organic certification and regulation, please contact us. Although we seek seasoned professionals, with a high degree of technical experience, we would entertain applications from recent graduates with master’s and/or doctoral degrees in programs that directly relate to Cornucopia’s scope of work.

Duties include research, writing, and conducting investigations into organic and sustainable food and farming production practices as well as networking and communicating with farmers, consumers, other organizations, and the media. We seek individuals who will strengthen our knowledge base.

The Cornucopia Institute is formally based in Cornucopia, Wisconsin, but is “virtually officed”—staff members telecommute from home offices around the country. Because of this, applicants must be highly motivated and able to work independently.  Please click here for a full job description. Read Full Article »

Cornucopia: USDA Maintains Pattern of Corporate Appointments

Thursday, 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.”

MORE:

“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: http://www.cornucopia.org/nosb-voting-scorecard/.