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.

Do We Want Organic Agriculture, or Just Organic Food?

January 23rd, 2017

Cornucopia’s Take: Cornucopia contends organic is a system of land and environmental stewardship, not just the absence of chemicals. Enjoy this commentary below by Matthew Hoffman of the Norwegian Centre for Rural Research.


“hydroponics is not organic — it’s not even agriculture”
Greenhorns blog
by Matthew Hoffman

Matthew Hoffman

The farmers market in Jack London Square in Oakland, California was a bustling scene when I worked there in the late 1990s, and my customers liked to tell me how devoted they were to organic agriculture.

I remember one devotee in particular.  Her tote bag bulged with produce and her brow wrinkled beneath the brim of her floppy hat as she stopped one day to study the sign above my new display of organic flowers.  At length she turned to me and said, “How can flowers be organic?”

This was not the first time that I realized a devoted customer had no idea what organic meant.  So I explained to her about how organic farmers take care of the land, maintaining healthy soil and a healthy environment for plants to grow in without the use of synthetic chemicals—and how organic practices apply just the same to flowers and fields of grass as to lettuces and bell peppers.

She nodded thoughtfully and seemed to appreciate this explanation, but then she frowned again and asked, “What does it matter if you’re not eating them?”

Then it was my turn to stare and wrinkle my brow as the gears slowly turned in my head. Read Full Article »

Uncharted Waters: Will the Trump/Perdue USDA Defend or Kill Organics?

January 19th, 2017

by Mark Kastel
Codirector at The Cornucopia Institute

You might have heard President-elect Trump has just announced former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue as his pick to head up what President Lincoln called “the People’s Department” — the United States Department of Agriculture.

Sonny Perdue
Source: Bruce Tuten

Perdue (no relation to the giant Perdue poultry company) holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine, grew up on a farm, and ran a small fertilizer business before running for elected office.  When he left the governor’s office in 2011, Perdue’s agricultural involvement shifted to ownership in crop export companies, farm transportation, and grain/feed processing.

Before his election as Georgia’s Governor, Perdue was elected to other state offices.  All told, he accepted $328,000 in campaign donations from agribusiness interests for seven election campaigns, according to published reports.

Like outgoing Secretary Vilsack, who was named biotechnology Governor of the year, when he was the chief executive in Iowa, Mr. Purdue received the same recognition from the biotechnology industry, in 2009, when he was Georgia’s governor.

Perdue’s perspective on organic food and agriculture is a mystery; he has never publicly spoken about it. Read Full Article »

Organic Checkoff Proposed by USDA to the Dismay of Farmers

January 19th, 2017

Cornucopia’s Take: Of all the groups with certified organic farmers as members, or nonprofit advocacy groups supporting the organic movement, we know of only one that has endorsed this proposal to tax farmers in support of research and promotional/marketing work (and it isn’t a coincidence the one group in support shares a board member with the organic industry lobby group, the OTA).

Longtime farmers have had a bellyful of paying millions of dollars for promotional work that researchers have found rarely garners a return on investment and, when it does, mostly accrues to the processing/marketing sector, not to the farming community…



No Organic Checkoff Coalition opposes proposed Federal US Organic Checkoff

No Organic Checkoff

Source: Capricorn

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Tuesday rolled out a proposal for a research and promotion check-off program, which could unfairly promote large organic processors’ needs over those of family farmers.  Organic farmers and processors continue to oppose an organic checkoff program.

“This is a disappointment for the organic sector—checkoff programs are not a good match for independent organic farmers,” said Kate Mendenhall, a spokesperson for the coalition. Read Full Article »

Years In the Making: Organic Welfare Rule (Way) Too Little / (Way) Too Late

January 18th, 2017

New Rulemaking Capitulates to Industrial Livestock Interests

On January 18 the USDA announced the publication of new regulations purportedly improving the welfare of livestock on certified organic farms.  The law, years in the making, was sparked after wide outcry from family-scale organic farmers, and their consumers, concerning “factory farms” producing organic milk, meat, and eggs.

“This rule is a result of the USDA’s failure to enforce the clear standards in the current organic regulations that require all livestock to have access to the outdoors,” said Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group that acts as an organic industry watchdog.

“The USDA has intentionally been allowing giant scofflaws in the industry, the largest conventional egg companies in the country, to provide minute enclosed porches as a legally accepted substitute for their animals being allowed to exhibit their natural behaviors outdoors,” Kastel added.

The following quotes can be attributed to Mr. Kastel (photo upon request):

The USDA claimed, for years, that the requirement for outdoor access was ambiguous and unenforceable.  The delay in enforcement, and foot dragging in new rulemaking, has allowed the industrial egg production sector to control an estimated 80-90% of organic egg production (this figure is from public testimony given by the industry lobby group, United Egg Producers).

Herbrucks’ organic egg operation in Saranac, MI

Intentional misinformation disseminated by the USDA when introducing these new benchmarks states that the vast majority of organic egg farms currently comply with the requirement for outdoor access.  This statement is likely factually correct.  However, with industrial egg “farms” confining as many as two million birds each, the percentage of production which is now in compliance with the law is, unfortunately, minimal. Read Full Article »

Organic Farmer and Sunset Lawsuits Update

January 18th, 2017

Cornucopia Seeks Organic Justice

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

by Will Fantle
Codirector at The Cornucopia Institute

Source: Adobe Stock

The USDA is seeking to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Cornucopia challenging two of the agency’s appointments to the 15-member National Organic Standards Board.

Cornucopia alleges that two of the board’s four farmer seats are occupied by full-time agribusiness executives, rather than farmers. Congress explicitly reserved four seats on the board for individuals who “own or operate” organic farms.

As a result of one of our FOIA lawsuits, Cornucopia secured NOSB application documents. They revealed that neither Carmela Beck (a full-time Driscoll’s employee) nor Ashley Swaffar (then a full-time employee of Arkansas Egg) provided any documentary evidence indicating that they owned or managed an organic farm. Read Full Article »

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