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.
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.
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 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.
Under Secretary’s Testimony Opens Discussion to “Enhance Organic Production”
USDA Under Secretary Greg Ibach recently made comments before the House Agriculture Subcommittee suggesting it is time to discuss the possible allowance of gene editing methods within organic production.
Ibach’s words are in line with the Trump administration’s stance. Organic standards currently prohibit the use of genetic engineering (GE) and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but USDA Secretary Perdue has been very friendly toward biotechnology companies and products.
President Trump’s June executive order to streamline approval for new GMO crops was immediately followed by a USDA proposed rule that would allow biotechnology companies to regulate their own GE creations. Ibach’s testimony is not surprising in this environment.
“The allowance of any GE techniques under the organic label raises legitimate ‘slippery slope’ concerns. The USDA would be hard-pressed to find the resources to track allowed GE technologies and products in the organic sector, assuming they could summon the will,” observes Cornucopia’s director of domestic policy Marie Burcham, JD.
We have already seen the playbooks of biotechnology companies. Because GMOs are an expensive investment, both in terms of time and money, only the largest biotechnology companies are positioned to research, develop, and test new crops. They benefit enormously as regulatory hurdles are removed.
The majority of genetically engineered crops currently on the market have been modified to withstand synthetic pesticides, repel pest species, and extend crop shelf-lives to benefit processors and retailers.
Chlorpyrifos is a widely-used pesticide with a trail of evidence of harm to children’s brain development. Prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos is known to reduce gray matter in fetuses and subsequently to lower IQs in children. EPA research has confirmed this danger, and the chemical was slated to be banned by the Obama administration. The decision, a political football, was reached at the conclusion of Obama’s presidency, and the ban was to be enacted by the incoming administration.
The Trump EPA rescinded the ban, leading to a lawsuit filed by public interest groups. In 2018, a federal court ordered the EPA to finalize the ban. Last week, the agency announced its decision not to ban chlorpyrifos. Read the whole story in the article below.
Chlorpyrifos is prohibited for use in organic agriculture, but more than half of all conventional apples and broccoli and a high percentage of conventional walnuts, asparagus, cauliflower, lemons, cherries, pecans, almonds, and peaches are treated with chlorpyrifos. Residues of the toxin remain on these foods even after washing and peeling (where reasonable). A recent study conducted by researchers at Emory University found that 59% of conventional milk samples contained chlorpyrifos.
Unsurprisingly, industry stakeholders present a different view. Phil Jost of Dow AgroSciences said in 2016, “The [EPA] assessment lacks scientific rigor, is contrary to EPA and Administration policies of data access and transparency in scientific decision-making, and falls short of the FIFRA requirement that decisions be based on valid, complete and reliable scientific data.”
To date, Hawaii, California, and New York have passed bans on chlorpyrifos, though these bans may not take effect for several years. Read Full Article »
Cornucopia Director of Domestic Policy Marie Burcham, JD
While industrial organic operations forsake the synthetic fertilizers and toxic chemicals of conventional agriculture, authentic organic farms provide numerous ecosystem services for the benefit of all.
As the landscape of organic evolves, Cornucopia continues to monitor the industry and its regulation. The best organic farmers offer more than delicious, nutrient-rich food; they heal the soil, provide habitat for wildlife, care for human health, and remind us that we all live together in the soil food web.
Read what our director of domestic policy has to say about Cornucopia’s work in the article below.
The Cornucopia Institute is Working Toward Economic Justice for Family-Scale Organic Farms badcredit.org by Matt Walker
Careful with that kale. Step away from those strawberries. They might not be as healthy as you think.
The USDA has identified residue from 225 pesticides and pesticide breakdown products — some known as potential carcinogens — on America’s conventionally grown produce. Based on this information, the Environmental Working Group lists strawberries, spinach, and kale as the top three most contaminated produce items atop its annual Dirty Dozen list.
Of course, the most obvious way to avoid those potentially harmful pesticides is to go for the organic option.
Most people understand that organic fruits and vegetables are grown without the use of pesticides and chemicals, and organic dairies and egg farms raise livestock humanely with access to green pastures and sunshine