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.
Cornucopia’s Take: Cornucopia has heard from organic farmers and businesses who have asked their certifiers for a moratorium on hydroponics and to identify fraudulent dairies and egg operations. Cornucopia’s infographic, A Perfect Picture of Corruption, shows an example of the some of these conflicts of interest.
The organic food industry is booming, and that may be bad for consumers The Washington Post by Laura Reiley
As organic food shifts from utopian movement to lucrative industry, a war is being waged for its soul.
Record organic sales in the United States totaled nearly $50 billion in 2017 according to the Organic Trade Association. Although organic food still represents only 5.5 percent of food sold, its year-over-year growth has been meteoric — taking a cue from conventional agriculture’s mantra: “Get big or get out.”
This has resulted in organic growers and food companies that, although technically adhering to the definition of organic — no chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics or pesticides — are a far cry from the idealism and high standards with which the movement began.
Now the Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group best known as an organic industry watchdog, is trying to promote higher standards among the accredited certifying agents hired by organic farmers, processors and handlers to ensure that their practices comply with regulations established when Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. Organic farmers’ original intent was to create a level playing field in the market and to provide consumers assurance about a minimum uniform standard for organic production.
In a scorecard set to be released this week, the Cornucopia Institute ranked all 45 domestic certifiers on their adherence to the spirit and letter of the organic law. The institute found significant variation in how certifiers interpret regulations, variation that frequently benefits huge corporate farms and competitively disadvantages those comporting themselves ethically. Read Full Article »
USDA Has “Willfully Failed” on Congressional Mandate to Prevent Fraud
When farmers lobbied Congress to pass the Organic Foods Production Act in 1990, their intention was to create a level playing field in the market and to affirm the credibility of organic labeling in the eyes of consumers. Unfortunately, according to a newly released report by The Cornucopia Institute, the USDA’s poor oversight of federally accredited third-party certifiers has paved the way for illegal output from “factory farms” that now dominate the $50 billion organic market basket.
Prior to 2002 when federal regulations kicked in, a hodgepodge of state laws and dozens of independently owned certifiers created their own organic standards. Although Congress intended the enforcement of uniform national regulations, a handful of the largest certifiers have allowed livestock factories producing dubious milk and eggs and hydroponic, soil-less indoor farming to illegally squeeze out legitimate family scale organic farmers and ranchers.
In addition to Cornucopia’s investigative analysis, the nonprofit farm policy research group also released a guide rating all 45 domestic certifiers on their adherence to the “spirit and letter of the organic law” as gauged by the most prominent allegations of malfeasance currently facing the organic industry.
“This might be the most provocative project we have worked on during our 15-year history,” said Mark A. Kastel, a Cornucopia founder and its current Executive Director. “Make no mistake about it, farmers will be empowered to disrupt the revenue streams of some of the largest and most powerful certifiers in the organic industry by switching to truly ethical alternatives.”
Cornucopia alleges that many of the certifiers established by farmers, some in existence since the 1970s and 80s, have morphed from nonprofits dedicated to helping promote environmental animal husbandry and the economic justice benefits of organic farming into multimillion-dollar corporations more interested in pursuing multibillion-dollar corporate agribusinesses. Read Full Article »
If you are a certified organic farmer or business owner, please consider printing and filling out the proxy letter below. If you return it to Cornucopia, we will send it on to your certifier along with proxies from other farmers who share your certifer.
Here is the letter text:
Dear (Name of certifier) CEO,
As my certifier I need you to be fully supportive of my efforts as a responsible farmer in protecting the integrity and reputation of the organic label in the eyes of my customers.
If you wish to retain my business the next time I renew my certification, I respectfully request that you go on the record and join me in retaining and protecting the true meaning that the organic farming and food movement was founded upon. My requirements are simple:
1. Instead of standing with other members of the accredited certifier trade group, I ask that you be transparent with Cornucopia researchers by filling out their survey and having an officer of your organization sign and stand behind the representations you make.
2. If you have certified any dairy CAFOs please institute a moratorium on certifying any with a stocking density of more than three cows per acre, any fields that are counted as “pasture” that are planted with annuals in desert-like climates, any operations milking more than two times per day, and any dairies that bring in cattle that were not managed organically from the last third of gestation as the regulations clearly require.
3. If you have certified any egg laying operations that substitute an enclosed porch to meet the legal requirement for “outdoor” access, I ask that you place an immediate moratorium on certifying any additional operations of that nature. The law states that all organic livestock must have access to the outdoors. In addition, hens in most of these aviary systems cannot access the outdoors.
4. The Organic Foods Production Act and the federal regulations both clearly require careful soil stewardship as a prerequisite for organic certification. If you have certified any hydroponic operations, you should immediately implement a moratorium on certifying any produce that does not have its roots in the ground (with the exception of sprouts and other similar vegetables and plants, seedlings, or culinary spices that are sold in their initial containers).
It is critical that ethical certifiers breakaway from their unethical peers that skirt the rules and diminish the value of the entire industry for their own personal gain. These are simple requests and certainly not anything radical. Managing livestock with a more humane level of welfare has always been part of organics. And the mantra “feed the soil not the plants” has been a foundational precept of organic growing since the movement was formed.
Please side with my family and the other ethical farmers, ranchers, and growers whose livelihoods depend on the reputation of the organic label.
Sincerely yours, (You may sign the letter or, if you are concerned about possible retribution, you may choose to sign anonymously. In that case, please provide Cornucopia with your identifying information so that we can verify your farm on the NOP list of organic farms. We will share your letter anonymously with your certifier)
Cornucopia’s Take: Creativity and diversification may help some organic dairy farmers keep their doors open. The farm in the story below has been able to take advantage of its proximity to major cities. While urban sprawl has meant the death of many farm operations, it seems to be saving this one.
Pinke: A grass-fed organic dairy farm stays viable just outside the Twin Cities INFORUM by Katie Pinke Twenty minutes south of Minneapolis-St. Paul, tucked into what is now the sprawling suburbs, is a family farm, Zweber Farms of Elko, Minn.
“The farm has been here since 1906 but actually the Zwebers have been farming in this area for over eight generations. We are currently grass-fed, organic. Today we have not only our dairy farm, which is about 60 percent of our operation. But we also have a grass-fed beef operation. We have a natural pork operation. We also do pasture chickens and free-range laying hens,” Emily Zweber said to me when I recently visited with AgweekTV colleague Trevor Peterson.
You may have never thought of how a family farm stays viable in the midst of urban sprawl.
Emily shared, “For us it’s really been about how do we stay and farm in the area that we’re in, being so surrounded by the urban development? For example, because of where we are, we’re not zoned agriculture anymore. And so that puts a lot of limits on how we can expand our operation or change our operation. For example, buildings. And so we’re not allowed to put on big agriculture structures to grow our operation. So we really have to think outside the box.” Read Full Article »