The integrity of the USDA organic seal is in jeopardy. As noted by Doug Crabtree of Vilicus Farms in the article below, we have to be more creative if we are to correct its course.
The organic standards were written to be the “gold star” in agriculture. It was intended to provide consumers with assurance that products bearing the seal were grown or produced according to the highest expectations in animal husbandry and care of the land. Instead, we watched as the USDA’s National Organic Program watered down and refused to enforce some of the organic rules.
Livestock factories feeding organic grain without enough quality pasture to raise their overstocked facilities are allowed to employ the same organic seal as the best grass-based, organic dairies. Hydroponic produce has been approved for organic certification and is flooding grocery stores, stealing shelf space from more expensive, nutrient-rich, soil-grown produce. Consumers are counting on the organic label, and few are aware of these controversies.
Cornucopia continues to educate consumers about where their organic food comes from. We believe that add-on labels, such as from the Real Organic Project and the Regenerative Organic Certification, have utility—but only if consumers recognize them. We will continue to rate products on our scorecards (found under the Scorecards tab on this website).
Stay tuned as the entire organic industry grapples with the path forward. Cornucopia will be there to shine the light on the farmers using the highest-integrity farming practices and to call out those operations that have attained organic certification using conventional methods with organic inputs.
An Existential Question for Organic — What Kind of System Do We Want?
The Organic Insider
by Max Goldberg
“We all left the old system (conventional agriculture) because we wanted something different. Now, we are becoming just like the old system.”
This was the comment that made the biggest impression at the Protecting Farmer Prices discussion, a panel that I moderated last week at the Organic Trade Association’s Bold Ideas and Critical Conversations Conference in Washington, D.C.
As organic has evolved from niche to mainstream, the rush of companies entering the sector has been non-stop. We are now faced with a “race to the bottom” environment, where the largest retailers are in a constant quest to lower prices in order to grow and maintain market share.
Further exacerbating the problem is that the USDA has failed to enforce the rules, allowing things such as hydroponics and ‘factory dairy farms’ to operate in organic. This has created an unfair competitive environment, which has pushed prices to artificially low levels and made life brutally challenging, if not impossible, for many small and mid-sized, soil-based organic farmers.
With no clear and easy answer to this problem, panelist Doug Crabtree, an organic farmer and owner of Vilicus Farms in Montana, correctly said, “We have to be more creative.”
Other industry stakeholders agree, and out-of-the-box solutions must be considered.