Cornucopia News Archive

Anemic National Organic Program Listening Session Ends Quickly

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

By Will Fantle


Miles McEvoy (center) at a recent NOSB meeting.

The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) held the first of what they described as a series of listening sessions on the afternoon of Thursday, October 16. Following introductory remarks from Deputy Administrator Miles McEvoy, who oversees NOP operations, the teleconference session was turned over to participants on the call who were given three minutes to provide feedback to the NOP.

Ten people chimed in and, despite repeated requests for more participation, the call – scheduled to last two hours – was adjourned after approximately 45 minutes. Of those callers who did share perspectives with the NOP, most were harshly critical of the recent controversial changes imposed by the USDA to the National Organic Standards Board’s authority and governance.

In particular, callers zeroed in on the USDA’s changes to “sunset” and the higher threshold now required for removal of synthetic and non-organic materials from what had been presumed to be their temporary use in organics. Following is a short synopsis of what callers said: Read Full Article »

Clarification: Cornucopia Independent Corporate/Governmental Watchdog Receives No State or Federal Funding

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

cornucopia logo bigThere is an Arab proverb that states, “When the king puts the poet on his payroll, he cuts off the tongue of the poet.” A recent New York Times article may have mistakenly led some to believe The Cornucopia Institute receives funding from “the king”—the federal government.  Not true!

Responding to the USDA’s announcement of a new $52 million program to support local and organic farming, I was quoted in the September 28 NYT article as saying, “It’s a really nice bump for us because we’ve been getting chump change for research.”  By “we” I was referring to the organic community, but at least one Cornucopia member understood it differently. This farmer-member let us know that, while he wholeheartedly supported our work, he would not be financially contributing in the future since, he believed, Cornucopia was receiving federal funds (after I responded that wasn’t accurate he reaffirmed his ongoing commitment to financially support our work).

Although we applaud the increase in funding for research by the USDA, it should be noted that we are still not getting our “fair share.” Organics is over 4% of the market, organic milk at about 6% and produce industry experts estimate organics share of fruits and vegetables at over 11%. We will be happy when the federal government supports organic agriculture at a commensurate rate — many European countries, recognizing the societal value of shifting away from using toxic chemicals to produce food fund at a much higher level.

I can assure you, The Cornucopia Institute serves as an independent organic industry watchdog—in both overseeing agribusiness and governmental activities. Read Full Article »

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
(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


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 »