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.

Organic Advocacy Groups File Legal Action to Prohibit Hydroponics from Organic

January 16th, 2019

[Read the rulemaking petition to the USDA.]

Healthy Soils are a Legal Requirement of Organic Production
Soil-less “Organic” Systems are Misleading to Consumers, Undercut Farmers

Today, Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a new legal action demanding the Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibit hydroponic operations from the organic label. Hydroponic production systems—a catch-all term that applies to food production methods that do not use soil—do not meet federal organic standards and violate organic law, which requires that organic farming include soil improvement and biodiversity conservation. Hydroponic systems cannot comply with the organic standard’s vital soil standards because hydroponic crops do not use soil at all. The CFS filing was endorsed by over a dozen other organic farmer, consumer, retailer, and certifying organizations, including the Organic Farmers Association, Northwest Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA), PCC Community Markets, and the Cornucopia Institute.

Source: Adobe Stock

“Mislabeling mega-hydroponic operations as ‘organic’ is contrary to the text and basic principles of the organic standard. Right now there is a pitched battle for the future of organic, and we stand with organic farmers and consumers who believe the label must retain its integrity,” said George Kimbrell, CFS legal director.

Consumers trust the organic label and pay extra for the assurance that it indicates a more healthful and environmentally-friendly way of producing the food they buy. Since the federal Certified Organic label was introduced more than twenty years ago, the organic food market has grown exponentially and is now a $60 billion industry in which multinational corporations have bought organic brands and compete with small food producers growing food using environmentally-friendly methods.

“Allowing hydroponic systems to be certified as organic undercuts the livelihood of organic farmers that take great lengths to support healthy soil as the bedrock of their farms,” stated Kate Mendenhall of the Organic Farmers Association. “Hydroponic producers getting the benefit of the organic label without actually doing anything to benefit the soil undermines the standard and put all soil-based organic farmers at an untenable economic disadvantage.” Read Full Article »

Who Needs the Organic Label

January 16th, 2019

Is It Really Worth Fighting For?

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

by Mark A. Kastel
Executive Director at The Cornucopia Institute

Mark Kastel, Executive Director

My mother is proud to tell me that 64 years ago she bucked the trend by breast-feeding me for a whole week or two. God knows what the comparative quality was of infant formula back then. We know how it compares to breastmilk now—it doesn’t.

Subsequently, I lived a typical American childhood, downing an occasional Coca-Cola (with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup) after a grilled “cheese” sandwich of Kraft Velveeta on Wonder Bread. Luckily, whole milk was less than occasional.

By my 20s, I was low-energy and by my 30s I had a legitimate health crisis. Fortunately, I saw a progressive physician-allergist who suggested I eat all organic food (by then I already had a pretty healthy, whole foods diet— long before there was any store by that name).

After decades of eating, gardening, farming, and advocating for organics, my health is excellent. Having recovered from pesticide poisoning/environmental illness, I’m very protective of my diet. I need organic food!

Many people, like me, come to organic food because of what it doesn’t have: agrichemicals, drug residues, and novel foods that have never been part of the human diet—GMOs. But what might be its greatest attribute, and what might have saved my health, is its comparable nutrient density. Read Full Article »

Restaurants Frequently Misrepresent What’s Organic

January 14th, 2019

USDA Will Enforce–But Consumers are the Frontline Investigators

Many consumers who choose organic food for home cooked meals want the same benefits of organic certification when they eat out. Unfortunately, many are being misled or defrauded.

Restaurants recognize that local and organic foods are no longer narrow niche markets and that promoting organic food can bring in a wider customer base, but the rules and regulations surrounding how restaurants can market their organic offerings are sparse. The federal organic regulations for retail operations generally consider restaurants exempt from organic certification.

However, it is still illegal to co-mingle or misrepresent the organic status of anything sold in a grocery store or as an ingredient used in food preparation at restaurants. The term “local,” although abused, is not a regulated term.

“A problem arises when a restaurant uses the term ‘organic’ in their name, signage, or marketing materials,” said Marie Burcham, a policy analyst and attorney for The Cornucopia Institute.  “It can and often does make consumers think the majority of what they are eating is certified organic.”

Gil Rosenberg experienced this confusion when he started eating at Bareburger, a New York City restaurant chain. Bareburger displayed that it sold organic food front and center, advertising “organic grass-fed burgers” and burgers “made with our custom proprietary organic blend,” along with other marketing on awnings, windows, and menus that flaunted the term “organic.” A burger at Bareburger will cost around $15–not cheap by American standards.

“People want organic food and they are willing to pay for it,” continued Burcham, “But what if they are not getting what is advertised? That’s misrepresentation.”

Rosenberg commented that he had been eating at various Bareburger franchise locations for nearly five years before discovering their misrepresentations. “When I would go [to Bareburger], I was told that the burgers, fries, and onion rings were ‘organic,’” stated Rosenberg. “They had the word ‘organic’ inside the restaurants, on the walls, burger clam shell boxes, takeout bags, menus, servers’ t-shirts, ketchup packs, and attached to their logo and awnings. Now it is clear to me that their marketing was designed to convince the public that all their food is certified organic, when only a small percentage of their menu is.” Read Full Article »

The Cultivator – Winter 2018

January 11th, 2019

Winter 2018 Cultivator coverThe Winter 2018 Cultivator, Cornucopia’s quarterly newsletter, is now available online. Download the PDF here.

In it you’ll find:

  • Healthy, Nutritious, or Hype?
  • Who Needs the Organic Label?
  • Organic Farmers Improve Ecosystem Services
  • Trust Through Transparency
  • Cornucopia Members Speak Up!
  • “Organic” Restaurant Marketing
  • Faith in Farming

Read Full Article »

The Best Research Money Can Buy

January 10th, 2019

Cornucopia’s Take: Cornucopia seeks to help eaters find research on what is healthy and what is not, and the task is harder than you might think. In the case of carrageenan, a thickener and emulsifier often used in processing plant-based beverages and other foods, we found a great deal of compelling evidence that carrageenan makes many people sick. The industry continues to argue otherwise, assuring customers that carrageenan is safe—it is, after all, approved by the FDA. But the studies they use to “prove” carrageenan is safe are all self-funded industry studies, procured by companies with a vested interest in finding their products healthful. You can learn more about carrageenan and the ongoing regulatory debacle around it in our report, Carrageenan: New Studies Reinforce Link to Inflammation, Cancer and Diabetes.

Sloppy science meets nutrition research
Gulf News
by Jane E. Brody

The unstated goal of most company-sponsored studies is to increase the bottom line

Source: Flickr

Confused about what to eat and drink to protect your health? I’m not surprised. For example, after decades of research-supported dietary advice to reduce saturated fats to minimise the risk of heart disease and stroke, along comes a new observational study of 136,384 people in 21 countries linking consumption of full-fat (read saturated) dairy foods to a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

But without dissecting each study included in this meta-analysis, it is not possible to say what might be behind this surprising result and whether you should now resume putting cream in your coffee and whole milk in your cereal bowl. The study may simply mean that consuming the equivalent of three servings of dairy products a day is healthful, not saturated fat per se.

Caution is in order, especially since another new study, this one a randomly assigned clinical trial, found that three weeks on a diet rich in saturated fat caused liver fat and insulin resistance to rise far higher than diets high in sugar or unsaturated fat.

Or maybe you bought into the hype about pomegranate juice as an antioxidant superfood, only to learn from a new book that the health-promoting evidence for this expensive drink derives mainly from $20 million of company-sponsored research. Read Full Article »

The Cornucopia Institute
P.O. Box 126 Cornucopia, Wisconsin 54827
Ph: 608-625-2000