Cornucopia News Archive

Considering Coffee

Tuesday, October 10th, 2017

Grounds for Labeling

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

by Linley Dixon, PhD
Senior Scientist at The Cornucopia Institute

Source: Adobe Stock

Straight, with sugar, milk, or honey. Regardless of how you take it, Americans love their coffee. At an average of two cups a day, the U.S. is only 22nd in terms of world consumption, with Scandinavian countries topping the chart at 2-3 times this amount.

As avid coffee consumers, how should we be sourcing our beans to minimize environmental impact and pesticides and support ecologically diverse farms?

Considering coffee is a tropical crop, our usual recommendation to “know your farmer” is largely unworkable. Instead, we must depend on the many certifications that decorate coffee packages, including organic, fair-trade, Rainforest Alliance, shade-grown, and even certified bird friendly! But with so many labels to choose from, how do we know which is best?

Many harmful chemicals that are banned in the U.S. are still widely used in developing countries on coffee plants. In addition to easing consumer concerns over chemical residues, buying USDA certified organic coffee mitigates exposure of farm workers who might not be trained for pesticide applications or have access to protective wear.

Some of the most common pesticides used on coffee include chlorpyrifos, disulfoton, and methyl parathion, all highly toxic organophosphate insecticides used to control cherry borers and leaf miners, among other insects. Read Full Article »

October Update: Materials Added to the FOIA Reading Room

Monday, October 9th, 2017

We have added new documents from the USDA to our FOIA reading room.

Of particular note, the USDA sent six batches of documents in response to our request for the investigative files related to the suspension of Turkish organic certifier ETKO.  ETKO lost its accreditation in Europe and Canada, and was suspended by the National Organic Program (NOP), but later regained its status as a certifier under the terms of a deal reached with the USDA.

We have also added documents pertaining to the Hydroponics FOIA request, NOP site visits to factory farms in Texas and New Mexico back in 2013, and a request into the NOP’s enforcement practices.

After review by Cornucopia researchers, all FOIA requests and documents returned by the government can be accessed in our FOIA Reading Room. Read Full Article »

The Significance of Soil

Friday, October 6th, 2017

Why Hydroponics Is Not Organic

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

by Linley Dixon, Senior Scientist at The Cornucopia Institute

Source: Adobe Stock

Every year, after the first frosty cold rolls over the mountains and puts an end to the outdoor growing season here in Colorado, I dust off the indoor grow lights and boxes of inert grow mats.

Exhausted from months of real organic farming, I look forward to sipping coffee in my jammies while tending to microgreens in the back room of my home. The in-floor hot water heating system is ideal for germinating seeds all winter long under stacks of grow lights.

The hours are flexible; under such controlled conditions, the seedlings don’t care if it is morning, noon, or night when I harvest them. Not a speck of dirt gets under my fingernails, nor does a ray of sunshine hit my face; I don’t even have to put on boots.

There’s nothing wrong with producing a hydroponic crop in the dead of winter to help supplement our diversified small farm’s income, but by no means would I consider it organic farming! Read Full Article »

Connecting the Dots

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

Large Certifiers, the USDA, and Industry Lobbyists Collude

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

by Mark A. Kastel,
Codirector at The Cornucopia Institute

Mark A. Kastel

When I began producing organic food, certification was voluntary. The USDA was years away from being involved.

Farmers formed our own certification groups because we wanted to assure the credibility of organic labeling claims. We wanted to grow the organic farming movement as both an economic justice vehicle for family-scale farmers and as a way to have a positive impact on society, human health, and the environment.

The stakeholders were divided on asking Congress to pass legislation setting minimum standards. Proponents of the standards, including myself, were suffering the consequences of commercial interests undercutting foundational organic standards, primarily in California.

The certification groups formed prior to the USDA’s involvement were feuding amongst each other on minor differences in standards, preventing the certification of multi-ingredient products to spur the commercial growth of organics.

As the saying goes, “Be careful what you ask for, because you might actually get it.” Read Full Article »

Organic Get Out Of Jail Free Card

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

Please feel free to quote anything in this statement to balance a story you might be already working on. You are also welcome to run this in its entirety as an op-ed. Photo of Mr. Kastel available upon request.

Organic Get Out Of Jail Free Card —
USDA exonerates largest “organic” factory dairy

To the organic community,

The Cornucopia Institute received a determination letter yesterday, September 27, from the USDA dismissing our most recent formal legal complaint against Aurora Dairy’s High Meadows facility in Colorado.

In an unprecedented move the government’s comprehensive explanation of why they dismissed the complaint would appear to be “damage control” for an agency under siege. After a scathing series of investigative reports published in The Washington Post, outlining gross improprieties in “organic” factory livestock production and massive fraud in the importation of organic commodities, and a damning audit of the National Organic Program’s work by the USDA’s Office Of Inspector General, the NOP’s longtime director, Miles McEvoy, recently announced his retirement effective tomorrow, September 30.

The USDA’s comprehensive letter closing the complaint, describing how Aurora is complying with the law, is virtually unprecedented. In past cases, the department merely stated that they had closed investigations, finding the allegations to be unsubstantiated. Their extra effort here, besides for serving as a buffer for criticism against the NOP, is a generous gift for Aurora Dairy.

Aurora is the nation’s largest certified organic milk producer. Utilizing a series of corporate-owned dairies, milking thousands of cows each in Texas and Colorado, Aurora produces private-label milk for Walmart, Target, Costco, and a myriad of major grocery chains and distributors.

One of Aurora’s feedlot dairies

When Cornucopia filed a series of complaints against nearly a dozen “organic” CAFOs in late 2014 (also covered in an exclusive story in The Washington Post) based on aerial photography and state regulatory documents, the NOP dismissed the allegations, stating the photographs revealed just “a moment in time.”

Our response was that, yes, they were randomly chosen moments at numerous industrial-scale facilities (depicting zero chickens outdoors and no dairy with more than 10% of their cattle out on pasture, many in conditions that were not conducive to grazing). But a “moment in time” should not invalidate evidence of flagrant violations of the law. After all, annual inspections conducted by certifiers who are compensated by their clients, and that the USDA depends on also illustrate only “a moment in time.” The only difference is that the inspections are by prearranged appointment.

With enhanced resources, The Washington Post observed the Aurora facility managing over 20,000 cows (milking about 15,000) for over a week and included drone imagery —not a single moment in time. However, the NOP dismissed the findings based on this expanded surveillance as well.

Read Full Article »