Cornucopia News Archive

Showdown at the Organic Corral

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Dueling Corporate Interests Wait to See What the New Trump/Perdue Administration Will Do with the Pending Updates to Organic Animal Welfare Standards

 Industry watchdog releases detailed analysis of pending rule

One of the pending regulations released in the final days of the Obama administration, and put on hold by the Trump White House, was an already controversial rule that pits legitimate family-scale organic farmers against the operators of “factory farms” that had already been accused of violating existing organic animal welfare standards.  A newly released analysis by a prominent organic industry watchdog, The Cornucopia Institute, explains what is at stake and why economically powerful forces in organics are squawking, principally, over new space requirements proposed for chickens.

The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule was published in the Federal Register on January 19, 2017, and amends current organic livestock and poultry production requirements. The new rule adds provisions for livestock handling, avian living conditions, and transport for slaughter, and expands and clarifies existing requirements covering livestock care and production practices.  It includes mandates for the care of cattle, hogs, and poultry.

“The new rulemaking was in response to a more than decade-long controversy about concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), or factory farms, confining as many as two million laying hens on a single ‘farm’ without the legally mandated access to the outdoors,” said Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute.  “This rule neither solves the problem nor makes any faction in the industry happy,” Kastel added.

Herbruck’s “organic” poultry operation in Saranac, Michigan

Read Full Article »

A Treasure in the Valley

Friday, February 10th, 2017

Purple Sage Farms’ Quest for Success

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

by Rachel Zegerius
Communications and Development Associate at The Cornucopia Institute

Photo courtesy of Arlie Sommer

Organic farmers Tim Sommer and Tamara Sloviaczek are deeply connected to their family, their community, their customers, and to the many ecological systems with which they interact daily.

For many organic farmers, such connections are the lifeblood of a successful business. For Tim and Tamara, the founders of Purple Sage Farms, many of these connections did not exist in 1988, when the pair of corporate marketing professionals returned home to Idaho to pursue a love of farming.

At that time, there was no organic certification program in their state, there was no cooperative marketing infrastructure, and the local food movement had yet to take hold.

Since then, not only has this duo developed a successful herb farm, but through years of advocacy, organizing, and hard work, they have helped spark the good food movement in southwestern Idaho. Read Full Article »

Organic is Soil

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Certifying Hydroponics is Against the Law

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

by Linley Dixon, PhD
Farm and Food Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute

The majority of organically certified soil-less
hydroponic operations primarily rely on
hydrolyzed, conventionally produced and,
likely, GMO soybeans to achieve the fertility
needed to produce a crop.
Source: Adobe Stock

Organic food is not solely defined by the inputs that farmers are (and are not) allowed to use. Rather, ‘organic’ is better defined by the natural systems that farmers must foster to create a nutritious product.

These natural systems include nutrient cycling when animals graze and fertilize pasture, attracting predators to control pests, planting a diversity of crops to control disease, and sequestering carbon in the soil to hold water and nutrients.

Why shouldn’t soil-less operations such as hydroponic and containerized systems be considered eligible for organic certification, even if the operations utilize only approved inputs? Because the law says so!

The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) requires that certified operations properly manage soil health. In contrast, soil-less operations depend on the addition of approved inputs, in a solution, to produce a crop, rather than primarily relying on the natural processes in the soil to feed the plant. Read Full Article »

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

Thursday, 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 »

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

Wednesday, 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 »