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.

The Cornucopia Institute is now seeking an Executive Director.

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.

Sign our petition below! If your organization would like to sign on, please contact us.

Read Full Article »

Organic Grain Detectives Raise More Questions for the NOP

September 5th, 2019

New Paper by John Bobbe and Anne Ross, J.D. LL.M.:
Potential, Failures, and Pitfalls of the National Organic Program in Getting Control of Organic Grain Fraud

The integrity of organic grain underpins much of organic production. It provides the grains we eat, and it feeds the organic poultry, cattle, sheep, and other livestock that provide organic meat, dairy, and eggs.

Industrial organic livestock operations typically rely on imported “organic” grain because it is far cheaper than domestic organic grain, and it is available in enormous quantities.

John Bobbe and Anne Ross, J.D. LL.M.

When it comes to fraudulent organic grain imports, The Cornucopia Institute and OFARM have been at the forefront in calling on the USDA to act. Both groups have aggressively tracked suspicious shiploads of “organic” grain, investigated the identity of international supply chains responsible for many of these shipments, and advocated for stronger enforcement measures.

Now OFARM’s former executive director, John Bobbe, and Cornucopia’s Anne Ross have joined forces to again impress upon the NOP that the import crisis is ongoing and that the agency has not done enough to stop it. In a paper they co-authored, Bobbe and Ross contend, “NOP’s failed enforcement efforts have left many organic farmers in dire straits with seemingly nowhere to turn, except off the farm.”

In addition to raising questions about NOP priorities in implementing remedial measures, Bobbe stated, “NOP would also like to shove off most of its investigative work on the certifiers and appears to only look at complaints if they have a shut tight case handed to them before acting.”

Ross warns the situation for domestic organic grain farmers could only get worse if the NOP doesn’t act now to stop fraudulent imports from crossing U.S. borders. Ross worries that an increasing global supply of organic grain in a market already distorted by fraud leaves the U.S. organic grain farmers especially vulnerable.

The paper’s release comes a day before an appearance by the NOP’s Associate Deputy Administrator, Dave Glasgow, at OFARM’s meeting in Piper City, Illinois. OFARM members are looking to Glasgow for answers to the concerns Bobbe and Ross raised. Following the meeting, Cornucopia will report on whether those concerns were adequately addressed. Read Full Article »

The Cornucopia Institute Rates More than 100 Cottage Cheese Products in New Scorecard

September 5th, 2019

Comprehensive Report Gives Consumers Valuable Tool to Decode Dairy Aisle

The Cornucopia Institute, which produces science-based reports that empower consumers to make informed decisions about their food choices, recently completed an investigation into the cottage cheese industry, a re-emerging market that’s forecasted to grow nearly 10% by 2022. Its new Cottage Cheese Scorecard rates more than 100 cottage cheese products from 24 brands.

Due to a recent surge in popularity, dairy consumers now choose from a growing number of cottage cheese options, ranging from organic and minimally processed cottage cheese to products laden with sugar and other potentially harmful additives. Cornucopia’s new report, Weighing the Curds, helps consumers separate nutritious options from overly processed concoctions.

“A lot has been written recently about the ‘comeback’ of cottage cheese. Cornucopia’s work offers more than a market data analysis—we actually give consumers a tool to differentiate the quality among the products available,” said Anne Ross, Cornucopia’s director of international policy.

Some manufacturers heavily sweeten cottage cheese to improve its flavor. Many add thickeners and gums, such as the gastrointestinal inflammatory agent carrageenan, to make their products “creamier.” These additives mimic yogurt products that are marketed as healthy, but contain sugar and unnecessary additives.

“Cornucopia’s analysis found that organic cottage cheese products are far superior to their conventional counterparts,” continued Ross. “This is, in part, because most organic brands stay true to the simplicity of authentic cottage cheese.” Read Full Article »

Origin of Livestock Rule Crawls Through Regulatory Mire

August 27th, 2019

The crisis in organic dairy is ongoing, with many family scale organic farms barely staying afloat or already out of business.

Source: Taylor Bennett, Flickr

Ethical farmers believe this crisis is perpetuated by differing applications of the “origin of livestock” rules in the organic standards. And some certifiers do appear to allow their dairy clients to game the system.

Offending dairies sell their certified organic calves for top dollar and buy cheap conventional heifers that are transitioned to organic over one year. This practice gives dairies a financial leg up because it allows them to sell the organic milk produced, instead of feeding it to baby calves.

The long-awaited Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule would have clarified this issue in 2018, but that proposed rule was withdrawn by the Trump administration, apparently in favor of agribusiness interests. A final rule remains on the horizon, despite dire reports from authentic organic dairy farmers.

Dairy consumers can help by using Cornucopia’s Organic Dairy Scorecard to support ethical family farmers.

Interested readers who want to learn more about the origin of livestock issue can also check out Cornucopia’s comprehensive report: The Industrialization of Organic Dairy.

Small Organic Dairy Farmers Say the Rules are Stacked Against Them. One Rule in Particular.
The Origin of Livestock rule is being applied in different ways by different certifiers, which producers and advocates say gives an unfair advantage to large dairies.
Civil Eats
by Lisa Held

Organic dairy farmers are often isolated and don’t get to connect to each other, said Liz Pickard, a farmer at Twin Oaks Dairy in Truxton, New York. But right now, when they do, the National Organic Program’s (NOP) “Origin of Livestock” rule is a hot topic.

“Everyone’s talking about it. It’s a huge deal,” she said on a recent phone call from her farm, as she cursed a stalled tractor. “This is probably one of the biggest things that’s putting a drag on the milk market right now.” Read Full Article »

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