Cornucopia News Archive

Protecting Organic Seed Integrity

Friday, June 27th, 2014

by Pamela Coleman, PhD

Protecting-Organic-Seed-Integrity-220x300Organic seed should be free of genetically engineered (GE) DNA, because organic regulations prohibit genetic engineering.  Unfortunately, organic crops are threatened by inadvertent contamination from GE crops.  In response to the threat, the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) published a workbook, Protecting Organic Seed Integrity: The Organic Farmer’s Handbook to GE Avoidance and Testing. [1]

Although the workbook itself is geared primarily to seed growers, the integrity of our seed supply is important to all of us.  Contamination of seed planted by organic farmers will result in GE DNA in organic food and feed.  This is an economic loss for the farmer, because buyers may refuse to purchase contaminated seed.  Wide-scale contamination of our seed supply can destroy the genetic purity of seed varieties used by organic farmers.  The workbook claims “OSGATA’s membership believes that contamination of organic seed by GE seed constitutes irreparable harm to the organic seed industry by undermining the integrity of organic seed.Read Full Article »

Robo-Calls Bother Organic Farmers During Spring Planting:

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Latest Push for Check-off by Powerful Organic Lobby Group

CI_RoboCallsOrganicThe Organic Trade Association (OTA) has launched the next phase of its push for an organic check-off program.   The industry lobby group, funded by the likes of General Mills, WhiteWave, Organic Valley and Smucker’s, has been working the phone lines, robo-calling thousands of organic farmers across the country and urging them to watch their mail for informational materials detailing the purported benefits of the check-off and why the program’s assessment would be in the farmer’s interest.

The OTA, with hired help from a well-connected Washington lobbying and public relations firm, the Podesta Group, was able to insert a provision in the Farm Bill recently passed by Congress in February permitting creation of a USDA market order to assess participants in the organic industry for promotion/marketing campaigns and research projects.  The OTA estimates that the proposal would raise $40 million to fund such efforts.  The creation of an organic check-off requires a vote by industry participants with a two-thirds majority necessary for consideration of the marketing order by the USDA. Read Full Article »

Citizen Groups Challenge USDA’s Power Grab “Threatening” Organic Integrity

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Contact: Aimee Simpson, 202-543-5450,
Abigail Seiler, 443-854-4368,
Will Fantle, 715-839-7713,

Legal Petition Filed to Restore Organic Board’s Independent Authority Set by Congress

(June 17, 2014 – Washington, DC) Today, 20 organic farm and consumer groups filed a legal petition with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to protect the authority and permanence of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The petitioners object to recent changes  to the NOSB charter, renewed on May 8, 2014, that undermine the mandatory and continuing duties of the Board as established by Congress under the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990.

The NOSB, a diverse 15-member stakeholder body, intended to safeguard the integrity of the organic food label, was created by Congress with independent authorities that operate outside the discretion of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Petitioners maintain that in renewing the charter under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), USDA mistakenly re-categorized the NOSB as a time-limited Advisory Board subject to USDA’s discretion and a narrowing of responsibilities.

“These changes to the NOSB Charter are significant and directly controvert the specific mandates of OFPA and Congress that NOSB is a permanent, non-discretionary committee that must fulfill a long list of statutorily mandated duties integral to the organic program,” said Aimee Simpson, policy director and staff attorney for Beyond Pesticides.

The NOSB, appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture, is comprised of a wide swath of organic interests, including farmers, consumers, environmentalists, processors, a retailer, and a certifier. It is charged with a number of specific duties, including establishing and renewing the list of synthetic and non-organic materials allowed to be used in organic production, known as the National List. Read Full Article »

Organic Food Shows Lower Levels of Pesticides than Conventional

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

by Pamela Coleman, PhD

Credit: USDA

Consumers often choose organic food because of the perceived health benefits—particularly the reduced exposure to pesticides—but is that a valid reason?  In a recent scientific article[1], Charles Benbrook and Brian Baker examined the evidence; they concluded that organic food does, indeed, have lower levels of pesticides than conventional food.

In fact, the authors say: “Organic food offers consumers a choice that dramatically reduces dietary exposure to pesticide and thus potential pesticide-related health risk.”

Benbrook and Baker examined data on pesticide residues in organic fruits and vegetables collected by the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program from 2002 to 2011.  In that time period, more than 1,000 of the samples tested had some level of pesticide residue.  Detection of pesticide residue is not necessarily cause for alarm.  Some pesticides of low toxicity may be used in organic crop production.  Conventional pesticides, although they are not approved for organic crops, may be present at low levels due to environmental contamination.  Recent advances in analytical chemistry have lowered the limits of detection, increasing the likelihood that very low levels of residues will be detected during sampling. Read Full Article »

A Response to The Wall Street Journal article: “Organic Farming Is Not Sustainable”

Friday, May 23rd, 2014
Linley Dixon, PhD
Cornucopia Farm Policy Analyst

The Wall Street Journal opinion piece “Organic Farming Is Not Sustainable” published May 15, 2014 by Dr. Henry Miller misrepresents the industry and is riddled with factual inaccuracies. Dr. Miller attempts to discredit organic agriculture’s environmental benefits on the basis of pesticide use, lower yields, groundwater contamination, and greenhouse gas emissions. The author displays a clear bias and incomplete knowledge of these subjects throughout the piece.

Dr. Miller states that one problem with organic farming is the use of pesticides, including nicotine sulfate and rotenone. Although natural, nicotine sulfate is listed as a prohibited substance in organic production. Rotenone is not licensed by the EPA for use in the United States and the National Organic Standards Board voted to prohibit rotenone in international organic commerce.

The more commonly used organic natural/botanically-based pesticides like pyrethroids, although safer to the environment, are considered “restricted” under organic regulations and only used as a last resort after cultural and biological preventative measures are exhausted.

These materials are very expensive compared to synthetic pesticides giving growers tremendous economic disincentive to use them. Instead, disease and pest prevention practices are routine in organic production and eliminate the need for chemical inputs.

Skeptics of organic agriculture frequently point to the use of natural pesticides, but fail to understand they are highly scrutinized to assure their safety for human health and the environment and are only last resort materials and thus used in very limited quantities. Conventional agriculture, on the other hand, sprays highly toxic and carcinogenic agrochemicals because they are cheaper than practicing disease prevention. Read Full Article »