Cornucopia News Archive

Alchemy by USDA and Certifiers

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019

Conventional Cattle on Organic Dairy Farms

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

by Marie Burcham, JD
Director of Domestic Policy at The Cornucopia Institute

The organic dairy industry is in a state of crisis. A glut of organic milk in the market is putting economic strain on family-scale dairies, forcing some to close their doors after generations of operation.

Source: AdobeStock

A significant cause of the problem is overproduction by industrial-scale organic producers edging their competitors out of business. “Factory” dairies—many milking thousands of cows—have perfected ways to game the system to gain an economic advantage.

One of their insidious methods is to leverage their scale advantage by rotating conventionally raised calves and heifers into organic production.

Cows start lactating around two years of age, when they give birth to their first calves. Organically raised calves usually consume milk, by bottle or bucket—the same quality of organic milk we buy in the grocery store or co-op—from the time they are born until they are weaned.

When a dairy cow “ages out” or otherwise is removed from production, she needs to be replaced if the dairy wants to maintain the same level of production.

The organic regulatory framework allows for the conversion of a distinct herd of dairy cows to certified organic production a single time. In this vein, some operations do not raise their young calves as replacements for their culled cows.

Instead, they purchase cheaper, conventional cattle raised on medicated milk replacer that commonly includes antibiotics and other banned pharmaceuticals and substances. After being weaned, these calves are fed conventional grains (usually GMO) and hay treated with toxic chemicals. Read Full Article »

Why Don’t You See Organically Labeled Fish?

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

The Complicated Industry May Be Incompatible with Organic Principles

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

by Marie Burcham, JD
Director of Domestic Policy at The Cornucopia Institute

Consumers often note that they do not see fish with the USDA organic seal at their grocery store or fishmonger. It is a topic that has come up many times within the National Organic Program (NOP) and its advisory board, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

In 2003, Congress amended the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) to allow wild-caught fish to be certified organic as long as regulations were developed first. However, despite this change, regulators decided that wild fish should not be labeled organic because hunting wild animals is not “agriculture.”

In 2005, the NOP created an Aquaculture Working Group (AWG), which generated a report to inform the NOSB on the issues. The NOSB’s Livestock Committee then developed standards for farmed fish and other aquatic species, releasing several recommendations between 2007 and 2009.

It is far more difficult to create standards for aquaculture
than for produce or livestock.
Source: Adobestock

However, there are questions as to whether a proposed organic rule on fish farming, also called aquaculture, is even viable. Both wild catch and most fish farming are associated with environmental problems that may make them incompatible with fundamental organic tenets. Read Full Article »

What is My Certifier Hiding?

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

A Farmer’s Plea for Certifier Transparency

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

Source: AdobeStock

Neal Laferriere, owner of Blackberry Botanicals, walks his organic farm in rural West Virginia. When Laferriere walks, he thinks.

As he strolls along the rolling hills, he thinks about his family, their farm, and their future. And, more days than he’d like to, he thinks about his farm’s organic certifier.

As agents of the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), certifiers occupy one of the most important roles in the organic movement. Farmers, processors, and handlers hire certifiers to ensure their practices comply with federal organic regulations.

When Laferriere received a letter from his certifier, Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO), saying they weren’t going to respond to a survey sent by Cornucopia asking about the types of operations they certify, he started walking.

The survey was sent as part of a comprehensive research project Cornucopia launched to help producers choose certifiers with values that align with their own, and to help educate consumers about the entities that certify the organic products they purchase. Read Full Article »

The Cornucopia Institute Examines Plant-Based Beverages

Wednesday, June 5th, 2019

Advertising Promotes Them as a Health Food—But Are They?

PBB Report CoverCornucopia’s new report, Pouring” Over Plant-Based Beverages, takes an in-depth look at what these beverages really offer consumers, how they are marketed, and how they compare to cow’s milk. Amid health concerns and dire climate crisis predictions, more consumers are buying plant-based beverages than ever before.  But are they the right choice for everyone?

Beverages made from seeds, fruits, nuts, legumes, and cereals often contain shockingly little plant material. Manufacturers heavily sweeten the drinks to improve their flavor and add thickeners and gums, such as the gastrointestinal inflammatory agent carrageenan, to make them seem creamy.

“Astonishingly, some of these beverages advertised as ‘healthy’ alternatives to dairy have a sugar content equal to or greater than some soft drinks,” said Anne Ross, the report’s lead author and Cornucopia’s Director of International Policy.

To help consumers find the most nutritious plant-based beverages containing the fewest additives, Cornucopia developed a comprehensive scorecard rating over 300 products from 49 brands. Read Full Article »

National Organic Program Releases Clarification Regarding Glyphosate in “Organic” Hydroponic Production

Monday, June 3rd, 2019

Recent discussions surrounding “organic” hydroponic operations have had the organic community in an uproar. Serious questions first raised by the Real Organic Project were raised again at the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting this past April regarding rumors of hydroponic operations spraying glyphosate or other pesticides on the land just prior to erecting a greenhouse and being immediately certified organic.

National Organic Program (NOP) representatives did not clarify whether the three-year transition period (during which no synthetic or prohibited substances can be used) applied to hydroponic operations as it does all other organic production methods.

Allowing hydroponic operations to be certified organic without clear standards has further exacerbated certifier and consumer confusion. It is now known that at least one certifier had dispensed with the three-year transition period for container operations. Based on an April statement of policy by that certifier, it appears to have become a widespread practice among certifiers.

Importantly, the concern expressed by the NOSB and organic stakeholders prompted the NOP to fast-track a guidance memo for accredited certifiers.

Released today, the NOP memo clarified that the three-year transition does apply to hydroponic operations. You can read the memo below or on the USDA website.

This means that new hydroponic operations will have to meet the same transition requirements as soil-based producers. While this is a welcome result and answers some concerns of the organic community, there are still questions we hope will be addressed in the near future. For example, it appears that the NOP will not be questioning the transitions of operations that have already achieved certification without the transition period, essentially grandfathering them in.

Cornucopia will continue to follow these issues closely. In the meantime, interested parties can get more information on the problems “organic” hydroponics poses in Cornucopia’s report, Troubling Waters. To help consumers vote with their forks, Cornucopia’s Hydroponic Buyer’s Guide helps consumers identify the organic crops and brands that likely come from hydroponic sources.

Seek out produce grown in soil and send the message that integrity and transparency are the foundation of organics! Read Full Article »