Cornucopia News Archive

New Report Puts Farmers Back in Charge of Organic Certification

Thursday, March 14th, 2019

USDA Has “Willfully Failed” on Congressional Mandate to Prevent Fraud

When farmers lobbied Congress to pass the Organic Foods Production Act in 1990, their intention was to create a level playing field in the market and to affirm the credibility of organic labeling in the eyes of consumers. Unfortunately, according to a newly released report by The Cornucopia Institute, the USDA’s poor oversight of federally accredited third-party certifiers has paved the way for illegal output from “factory farms” that now dominate the $50 billion organic market basket.

A Perfect Picture of Corruption
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Prior to 2002 when federal regulations kicked in, a hodgepodge of state laws and dozens of independently owned certifiers created their own organic standards. Although Congress intended the enforcement of uniform national regulations, a handful of the largest certifiers have allowed livestock factories producing dubious milk and eggs and hydroponic, soil-less indoor farming to illegally squeeze out legitimate family scale organic farmers and ranchers.

In addition to Cornucopia’s investigative analysis, the nonprofit farm policy research group also released a guide rating all 45 domestic certifiers on their adherence to the “spirit and letter of the organic law” as gauged by the most prominent allegations of malfeasance currently facing the organic industry.

“This might be the most provocative project we have worked on during our 15-year history,” said Mark A. Kastel, a Cornucopia founder and its current Executive Director. “Make no mistake about it, farmers will be empowered to disrupt the revenue streams of some of the largest and most powerful certifiers in the organic industry by switching to truly ethical alternatives.”

Cornucopia alleges that many of the certifiers established by farmers, some in existence since the 1970s and 80s, have morphed from nonprofits dedicated to helping promote environmental animal husbandry and the economic justice benefits of organic farming into multimillion-dollar corporations more interested in pursuing multibillion-dollar corporate agribusinesses. Read Full Article »

Faith in Farming

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019

Finding a Way of Life on Windy Acres Farm

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

by Jason Cole,
Research Associate at The Cornucopia Institute

Photo courtesy of Windy Acres Farm

What is the meaning and purpose of work? Is it simply a means of making a profit and accumulating wealth? Can work build community and nurture the creation? Are we simply miners of the soil, taking all we can get, or are we caretakers so that future generations will also receive the blessing and benefit of the good land?

These were some of the questions that Alfred and Carney Farris came to consider in the 1970s, soon after they moved back to family land in the northern Tennessee foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. There, they began a lifetime learning process through their stewardship of what would become Windy Acres Farm.

Though they both grew up on what might be called “hobby farms,” Alfred and Carney came late to full-time farming, just as Alfred was approaching his 40th birthday. Initially, they farmed like everyone around them, depleting the soil and degrading the land with chemicals and synthetic fertilizers. Read Full Article »

Organic Farmers Improve Ecosystem Services

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

Benefiting Communities and the Planet

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

by Marie Burcham, JD
Farm and Food Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute

Source: AdobeStock

The benefits that a healthy, functioning environment provides for humanity are called ecosystem services. For example, forest ecosystems provide the service of oxygen production. These benefits are often taken for granted, although these services are finite in nature and tied directly to the vitality of the ecosystem itself.

In the early 2000s, the United Nations sponsored the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), an effort to understand the impact of human actions on ecosystems and human well-being. The assessment popularized the concept of ecosystem services, discussed in scientific and economic circles for decades prior.

The MA ultimately identified four major categories of ecosystem services: 1.Provisioning (production of food and water); 2.Regulating (controlling climate and disease); 3.Cultural (spiritual and recreational benefits); and, 4.Supporting Services (oxygen production and nutrient cycling). Read Full Article »

Healthy, Nutritious, or Hype?

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Evaluating the Hot Market for Plant-Based Beverages

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

by Anne Ross, JD
Farm and Food Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute

Source: Adobe Stock

Sales of non-dairy, plant-based beverages are burgeoning. In 2010, only one-fifth of U.S. households purchased or consumed plant-based beverages. By 2017, these beverages, commonly referred to as “milk,” had posted a 9% gain and reached a whopping $1.6 billion in annual sales.

Supermarket shelves are stocked full of plant-based beverage options, derived from a variety of sources, including nuts, seeds, legumes, and cereal grains. These products can be found in an assortment of flavors in both refrigerated and shelf-stable packaging. As plant-based beverages take over grocery store displays, it’s important for consumers to have the information they need to evaluate which, if any, of these beverages are right for them.

Cornucopia’s upcoming report and the accompanying scorecard will help consumers compare nutritional profiles of plant-based beverages, while also comparing them to that of dairy milk. Cornucopia’s report rates over 300 products from 49 brands, making it the most comprehensive examination of plant-based beverages available. Read Full Article »

Trust Through Transparency

Friday, January 25th, 2019

Managing Conflicts of Interest in the National Organic Program

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

by Anne Ross, JD
Farm and Food Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute

Source: AdobeStock

Many federal and state laws, professional bodies, and associations establish policies that recognize conflicts of interest and take steps to mitigate those conflicts.

Federal employees in the executive branch of government are restricted from performing certain post-employment activities, like advising foreign political governments and parties. Similarly, there are restrictions on former congressional members, imposing “cooling off” periods before they can lobby Congress.

Lawyers are governed by strict rules of professional conduct specifically addressing potential conflicts of interest. Lawyers must obtain consent from a former client before representing a new client in matters that are averse to the interests of former clients.

The pharmaceutical and medical device industries are required to disclose consultancy relationships with physicians to avoid the appearance that medical entrepreneurship is prioritized over research or patient care.

The National Organic Program (NOP) should enact similar measures to engender confidence in the organic sector. Read Full Article »