Cornucopia News Archive

USDA-Backed “Factory Farm” Takeover of Organic Milk Production Crushing Family-Scale Farmers and Forcing Them Out of Business

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

Newly Released Report, and Associated Organic Dairy Brand Scorecard, Enables Defrauded Consumers and Wholesale Buyers to “Vote with Their Pocketbooks”

When commercialized in the 1980s, the organic dairy movement was viewed by many farmers as opting out of a rapacious agricultural marketing system that had already driven the majority of dairy farm families off the land over the preceding two decades. Now, a quarter century later, history is repeating itself with giant “factory farms” flooding the organic dairy market with fraudulent “organic” milk and economically devastating family businesses and rural communities.

According to the latest USDA records, organic milk production jumped 18.5% in 2016 alone, far eclipsing the growth in market demand. As a result, wholesale purchasers of raw organic milk have cut prices to farmers by 25-30% or more. In addition, some buyers have set quotas, mandating production cuts, further impacting cash flow. The largest organic dairy name brand, Horizon, owned by Groupe Danone of France, is terminating contracts with some farmers, at a time when there are no alternative markets available. Industry experts have called the moves by the world’s largest dairy a “death warrant” for farmers.

With the glut of organic milk, and the USDA abdicating their legally-mandated oversight responsibilities, authentic organic farmers and their customers are poised to band together to take their fight to the dairy coolers of the nation’s groceries and specialty retailers.

The Cornucopia Institute, a prominent organic industry watchdog, has just released a comprehensive history and study of the industry, exposing how factory farms, some milking as many as 15,000 cows in desert-like conditions in the Southwest, are defrauding consumers by depriving them of the documented nutritional superiority in pasture-based organic dairy production.

The report includes a companion Organic Dairy Scorecard rating approximately 160 brands in terms of their authenticity and quality of production. Read Full Article »

Organic Industry Watchdog Response to USDA on Import Fraud

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018

[Read the USDA’s Office of Inspector General review of the NOP’s oversight of imports.]

The USDA’s National Organic Program, under increasing criticism regarding wholesale fraud in organics under their watch, today conducted a “virtual town hall” to present proposed rulemaking to address the improprieties.

Port of Oakland
Image source: Travis Leech

For most of the past decade, since The Cornucopia Institute rang the alarm bell over apparent fraud in the importation of organic commodities, the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), and the industry’s powerful lobby group, the Organic Trade Association (OTA), had nothing but praise for the federal oversight of exponentially increasing imports.

Their wake-up call, in 2017, was a scathing investigative story published by The Washington Post documenting large-scale fraud in the importation of feed grains from former Soviet Bloc countries with documented records of other forms of international crime. Last year the USDA’s Office of Inspector General also released a highly critical review of the NOP’s oversight of imports.

Now, over a year later, the USDA is proposing taking some constructive steps. Their timetable for publishing a new rule is spring 2019. After public comment is received and considered it could be another six months or year before implementation (without any phase-in period).

However, The Cornucopia Institute is strongly advocating for “emergency” rulemaking enabling enhanced enforcement measures to go into effect on an immediate basis.

Furthermore, Cornucopia is pressuring the USDA to follow the intent of the enabling legislation that gave the agency the mandate to regulate the industry, the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). That law mandates that the Secretary of Agriculture consult with the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a 15-member expert advisory panel set up by Congress, before promulgating new regulations. The NOSB would then, thoughtfully, collaborate with stakeholders in the organic industry to create permanent rules while the emergency measures are already in place. The NOSB has discussed this topic but has not been allowed to formulate specific recommendations on new regulations.

Emergency rulemaking would temporarily bypass some of the legal noticing requirements, and public input, that might otherwise delay implementation for one to two years. This would give the NOSB, in collaboration with the industry, time to act.

Read Full Article »

Why Don’t We Do More Fundraising As a Public Charity?

Friday, July 13th, 2018

“Your research, reports and resources continue to impress me. You are relentless in pushing for organic integrity. With 31 years of organic vegetable farming behind me, I know integrity when I see it. So I am bumping up my annual financial support to show my true appreciation.

You guys are just freakin’ awesome!”

– Seven-year sustaining Cornucopia member, Jim Eldon, Brooks, California (pictured with his wife Julie)


Dear Friend,

I always tell our staff, as a public-interest charity, our policy and communications work is the very best fundraising work we do. We don’t ask for contributions very often. Certainly at the end of the year and when your membership is due (and once in a while for an authentic/critical project).

Eldon Farm

When we send out a news release, action alert, or newsletter (electronic or in print), unlike many other groups, there’s no standard “ask” for donations. However, it really helps our morale that, even without asking, we get a handful every time. I can’t thank our loyal members enough for your ongoing confidence in our work.

When Jim chimed in after we emailed our last biweekly e-Newsletter with the laudatory comments above, they were worth a million dollars to me. So I thanked Jim and asked for permission to share them with the folks who receive our electronic newsletter.

Now I’m asking: If you are not already a member of The Cornucopia Institute, I respectfully ask you to please join and financially support the work of our staff protecting the authenticity of our food supply and farmers like Jim Eldon.

Read Full Article »

Trader Joe’s to Change Misleading Images on Cage-Free Eggs

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

Earlier this year, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed suit against Trader Joe’s for misleading images on cartons of cage-free eggs. The images show chickens roaming freely in an idyllic barnyard setting. However, “cage-free” means only that the laying hens do not live in battery cages. In reality, these chickens spend their lives, wing-to-wing, jam packed in industrial hen houses without ever going outside.

In Trader Joe’s recent settlement with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, they agreed to remove the misleading images from their egg cartons. This is one small victory for consumers bombarded with feel-good advertising for eggs.

Cornucopia has deciphered the meanings of labels on egg cartons for buyers.

To help organic consumers determine which brands of organic eggs comply with their ethical expectations, The Cornucopia Institute developed the Organic Egg Scorecard. Ratings are based on producers’ answers to a comprehensive questionnaire about production practices, unannounced site inspections, aerial photography, satellite imagery, and extensive industry interviews.

Whenever possible, Cornucopia recommends buyers get to know their farmer. Small egg producers may not be certified organic for practical reasons, so we created a DIY Certification Guide to help buyers ask farmers the kinds of insightful questions that an organic certifying agent would ask when inspecting an organic farm. But your first choice should be local, certified organic eggs that are highly rated on our scorecard. Read Full Article »

Cornucopia De-Codes Egg Labels

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

Egg cartons are increasingly cluttered with third-party certification claims and a myriad of potentially misleading statements. Some of these are meaningful to egg buyers, and some of them are nothing more than marketing gimmicks.

Source: polaristest

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is the agency responsible for ensuring the truthfulness and accuracy in labeling of poultry products. You can find their explanations for labeling terms on their website. However, many successful lawsuits claiming misrepresentation and consumer fraud illustrate that the FSIS is not really on guard.

Cornucopia has de-coded the labels below to help you find the best eggs for your family.

All Natural

Battery Cages
Source: Farm Sanctuary

This label is entirely meaningless. The hens can be housed in battery cages with each bird allowed floor space less than the size of a standard sheet of copy paper. The hens are generally fed GMO corn and feed which may include animal byproducts, and they may be packed into giant industrial barns housing over a million birds. This is how the vast majority of laying hens are raised in the U.S. These horrendous conditions produce a very cheap egg in the market. Cornucopia notes that you get what you pay for in terms of flavor, nutrition, environmental impact, and quality of life for both birds and farmers.

Cage-Free

Cage-free
Source: Naim Alel

This label means there are no battery cages and the hens have an average of one to 1.2 square foot of space per bird. They are likely eating the same low-quality feed noted above, but they are able to perch, spread their wings, and walk around a bit more than if caged. This still leaves them more vulnerable to being injured or even pecked to death by other hens, and the air quality in these massive buildings is miserable. They spend their entire short lives indoors. Some of these operations have “floor birds” while others use aviary systems with multiple tiers, packing birds in every possible square foot, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling. Read Full Article »