The Cornucopia Institute

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.

Sign On: No GMOs in Organic!

August 2nd, 2019

The Cornucopia Institute recently reported on troubling comments made by USDA Under Secretary Ibach at a House Agriculture Subcommittee meeting regarding the possibility of gene editing in organic.

Tell the USDA and the House Agriculture Subcommittee: No Genetic Engineering in Organic!

Dear Under Secretary Ibach and House Agriculture Subcommittee,

USDA Under Secretary Greg Ibach recently made comments before the House Agriculture Subcommittee suggesting it is time to discuss the possible allowance of certain gene-editing methods within organic production.

We vehemently disagree.

The organic marketplace is premised on being free from genetic modification. Ibach’s statements, in specific reference to gene-editing technology that alters only a plant’s existing genome, may have been an attempt to test the organic waters for acceptance.

But organic consumers do not want gene-edited food. In a 2017 survey conducted by Natural Grocers, 70% of respondents said they buy organic specifically to avoid GMOs. The organic label promises food produced without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, without antibiotics or other harmful pharmaceuticals, and without genetic engineering.

Ignoring the fundamental intent of the USDA organic label renders it meaningless and threatens the $52.5 billion industry.

Additionally, gene-editing techniques are not needed to resolve problems resulting from drought, pest resistance, and other challenges within our foodsheds. Traditional breeding techniques have been effective for centuries. When appropriately funded, the science behind selective breeding and other traditional techniques has exponentially improved.

Instead of inviting chemical and biotechnology companies into organic agriculture, the USDA and House Agriculture Subcommittee should provide farmers the financial support they need to develop new cultivars that are not genetically engineered.

The survival of the USDA organic label depends on farmers dedicated to the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) standards that were adopted and codified into federal law in 1990 and have been clarified by the National Organic Standards Board since then. Consumers rely on the organic label to find food produced under OFPA’s environmental and humane standards and free of genetic modification. We will not tolerate the intrusion of genetic engineering into organic production.

We urge the House Agricultural Subcommittee to take these concerns seriously.

The Cornucopia Institute Board of Directors
– Cameron Molberg, President (New Growth Management)
– Helen Kees, Vice President (Wheatfield Hill Organics)
– Goldie Caughlan, Secretary (Retired from PCC Natural Markets and former NOSB member)
– Kevin Engelbert (Engelbert Farms and former NOSB member)
– Jim Crawford (New Morning Farm)
The Cornucopia Institute Staff

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Alleged Animal Abuse at Known “Factory Organic” Dairy Under Watch of Texas Department of Agriculture

August 21st, 2019

Cornucopia files formal legal complaint, encourages consumers to rebuke the false marketing of factory organic brands

[Read Cornucopia’s formal legal complaint to the USDA.]

Natural Prairie Dairy operation
Image from Cornucopia’s
2014 Flyover Investigation

Natural Prairie Dairy, one of the first “organic” dairies to employ industrial stocking practices, recently made headlines again. The Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) released a video in July showing severe abuse of dairy cattle at an operation housing approximately 14,000 cows, certified USDA organic by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA).

The undercover video, along with ARM’s full report on their month-long investigation, shows cows being kicked, hit with shovels, stabbed with screwdrivers, force-fed, and inhumanely tied for many hours. Many cattle were observed with injuries, foot diseases, infected udders, and lameness. Downer cattle, unable to stand on their own, were beaten, dragged, left to die, and observed falling into cesspools, where they almost drowned before being dragged out by their heads.

“The abuse caught by the undercover investigator is appalling, whether it comes from an organic or conventional dairy,” commented Marie Burcham, JD, The Cornucopia Institute’s director of domestic policy. “Cornucopia reported to the USDA in 2010 that this certified organic dairy was violating organic regulations. Almost a decade later, Natural Prairie Dairy has not been decertified. We want proof that the USDA is willing to enforce the law.”

That proof remains elusive. Almost a month after ARM reported on the “squalid, overcrowded, and unsanitary conditions” at Natural Prairie Dairy, the operation remains listed as certified in the USDA’s Organic Integrity Database, and TDA remains an accredited certifier. Cornucopia has filed a formal legal complaint against the operation and its certifier.

TDA certifies some of the most egregious factory farms and has had multiple, serious non-compliances in years past. According to Freedom of Information Act disclosures, they failed to conduct annual inspections on approximately 22% of their clients in one year, had insufficient personnel to comply with and implement the organic certification program, and failed to conduct unannounced inspections. Read Full Article »

South American Grain Fraud Allegations Draw Industry Scrutiny

August 20th, 2019

Cornucopia has long called on the USDA to stop fraudulent organic grain imports from crossing U.S. borders.

Cases of fraudulent organic grain imports originating from Eastern Europe are well documented, as is the USDA’s failure to expeditiously investigate and impose penalties on bad actors intent on defrauding American farmers and consumers.

Source: Chesapeake Bay Program, Flickr

Now the article below discloses that South America may also be an origin of concern.

According to a complaint submitted to the USDA, Rivara SA, an Argentinian company, exported millions of pounds of fake organic corn and soybeans to the U.S.

The complaint relies on recorded conversations of a Rivara employee who allegedly admitted that Rivara was engaged in import fraud.

Perdue Agribusiness, a subsidiary of Perdue Farms, is Rivara’s largest customer.  Because Perdue Farms is the largest organic chicken producer in the U.S., the allegations raise serious concerns about the integrity of much of the U.S.’s organic chicken supply.

The article also notes that Tiryaki, the largest supplier of organic grain into the U.S., is transitioning to a new certifier after its former certifier, Control Union, was suspended by the USDA.

Cornucopia previously reported that USDA’s suspension followed the European Union’s action against Control Union for poor performance that facilitated organic fraud.

Cornucopia was the first to publicly call attention to the Tiryaki supply chain and will continue to monitor suspicious imports wherever they originate.

Organic-grain complaint raises questions about major Argentine supplier
Company in Argentina is scrutinized over its practices
by Adam Belz
Associated Press

For years, American farmers’ battle against fake organic-grain imports has centered on Eastern Europe. Now, an organic farm in South America is being scrutinized.

A lengthy complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and obtained by the Star Tribune, alleges fraud at an organic-grain company in Argentina that exports millions of bushels of organic corn and soybeans to the United States each year.

The complaint said that Rivara SA deliberately used prohibited fertilizers and herbicides to produce grain that it then passed off as organic to U.S. customers, including the largest U.S. producer of organic chickens. Read Full Article »

The Crisis in Organic Dairy

August 18th, 2019

Consumers Unite!

[This article was previously published in the summer issue of  The Cultivator, Cornucopia’s quarterly newsletter.]

by Marie Burcham, JD, Director of Domestic Policy at The Cornucopia Institute and Melody Morrell, Operations Director

Source: AdobeStock

Family-scale organic dairies are struggling to make ends meet. Many have already lost their farms and businesses, some of which have been in the family for generations.

At their biannual meeting in April, the National Organic Standard Board (NOSB) heard from multiple family-scale dairy farmers about how their businesses are failing due to the inconsistent application of organic principles during certification.

For example, a small number of very large “organic” dairies are disregarding the origin of livestock rules by continuously cycling conventional livestock into production. Industrial organic operations, whose cows spend most of their lives in the feedlot, also struggle to meet even the most modest pasture requirements.

Authentic organic dairy farmers easily exceed the pasture requirements for organic livestock: 30% dry matter intake (DMI) and a minimum 120-day grazing season for each individual animal.

What’s more, the grain being fed in industrial operations may not actually be organic. In 2018, Cornucopia Director of International Policy Anne Ross, JD, exposed a network of fraudulent grain importers from overseas.

Available data shows the U.S. is importing more than they can possibly grow. This grain is cheap and abundant compared to real organic grain, making it an attractive choice for livestock factories.

Several dairy farmers shared emotional stories at the spring NOSB meeting in Seattle—about their families losing their homes, about financial ruin, about watching other dairies break or bend the organic rules without consequence, while their own ethical practices put them further and further into debt. Read Full Article »

Cornucopia is Seeking an Executive Director

July 31st, 2019

The Cornucopia Institute is is seeking candidates for its Executive Director position.

Cornucopia acts as an organic industry watchdog protecting organics and alternative marketing mechanisms allowing farmers and consumers to connect. We seek to defend the integrity of the organic food label from governmental regulatory indifference as well as from agribusinesses profiteering from unethical and questionable food production and agricultural practices. Our staff are committed to ensuring that organic and local food remain true to the human and environmental health promises that they were founded on.

A heartfelt passion for protecting the environment, the good food movement, human health, humane livestock husbandry, and social/economic justice for family farmers is essential for this position.

The full job descriptions and details for application are available at
Please do not send email or call.

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The Cornucopia Institute
P.O. Box 826 Viroqua, Wisconsin 54665
Ph: 608-637-8278