Cornucopia News Archive

Industry Watchdog Asks DOJ Regulators to Examine Organic Poultry Acquisition

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

Tyson Foods Announces Plans to Acquire Smart Chicken Brand

[Read Cornucopia’s letter to the DOJ and FTC.]

Last week, U.S. meat industry titan Tyson Foods, Inc. announced its plans to acquire Tecumseh Poultry, LCC for an undisclosed amount. The deal would take one of the leading organic poultry brands, Smart Chicken, and pair them with other organic brands the industrial giant already owns. Organic industry watchdog The Cornucopia Institute just released a formal request to antitrust regulators asking them to scrutinize the acquisition, claiming it will irreparably harm competition in the already highly concentrated industry sector.

Some of 41 Smart Chicken barns in Tecumseh, NE:
Gates open, grass mowed, all doors closed.
No signs of birds ever being out.

Tyson Foods is one of the world’s largest food companies. The corporation has approximately $38.3 billion in annual sales, producing over 68 million pounds of meat per week. Tyson representatives state that this acquisition will make them one of the nation’s leading producers of organic branded chicken. Tyson also produces organic chicken products under its NatureRaised Farms and Aidells brands. Smart Chicken will add significant market share to the organic poultry brands Tyson already holds.

In 2017 Cornucopia made a similar claim that France’s Groupe Danone’s acquisition of WhiteWave Foods would create an unhealthy market in the organic dairy industry. That deal would have combined the Horizon label (the country’s largest organic milk brand) with Stonyfield yogurt (the country’s largest organic yogurt brand). Regulators at the U.S. Department of Justice concurred, allowing the deal to go through only after Danone jettisoned Stonyfield.

The market for organic poultry grew in sales volume by 8.6 percent from 2016 to 2017 (more than four times the rate of conventional poultry growth). According to USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), the number of certified organic broilers produced in 2016 totaled more than 19 million and the number of certified organic turkeys was 410 thousand. The impressive growth of the organic poultry market in recent years made this move attractive to Tyson, with its representatives noting that the Smart Chicken brand is a leader in the organic poultry market and would give them a greater slice of that market. Read Full Article »

Cornucopia’s Egg Scorecard in The New York Times

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

The New York Times recently touted The Cornucopia Institute’s organic egg scorecard in Florence Fabricant’s article, Organic Egg Ratings at Your Fingertips. Fabricant says, “It’s worth studying the many shades of organic, especially regarding eggs.”

The scorecard showcases brands of ethical family farms and exposes factory farm brands in the grocery store that threaten to take over organic livestock agriculture. Based on 28 criteria important to organic consumers, Cornucopia rates name-brand and private-label organic eggs from a poor one-egg score to the excellent five-egg score.

The scorecard also profiles some emerging brands that advertise their eggs as “pastured,” although their birds are housed in fixed buildings. Some factory farm operators raise millions of birds (both conventional and organic) with as many as 200,000 “organic” hens in a single building. The true gold standard in organic egg production is portable henhouses which farmers rotate in fresh pasture, oftentimes daily.

Consumers and wholesale buyers can read more about the organic egg industry in Cornucopia’s report, Scrambled Eggs: Separating Factory Farm Egg Production from Authentic Organic Agriculture. Use our web-based egg scorecard to determine where to invest your food dollars. Read Full Article »

OTA Surprised by USDA Abandoning Organic Checkoff Program

Friday, May 25th, 2018

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has pushed its Checkoff Program since 2012, touting it as a fund to research and promote organic products as a whole. Many farmers were dubious. Checkoffs (mandatory taxes on producers) have historically benefited processors and handlers far more than farmers. And this would be the very first checkoff program for such a wide array of stakeholders.

OTA CEO Laura Batcha:
“We were very, very surprised –
it was incredibly unexpected.”
Image source: USDA

The Beef Checkoff brought us “Where’s the Beef,” the Egg Checkoff brought us “the incredible, edible, egg,” and the Dairy Checkoff brought us celebrities in magazines sporting milk mustaches. But the USDA disallows any advertising that would tout organic as superior to conventional production—reducing what, if any, benefits could accrue from a national marketing campaign.

Still the OTA persisted, reporting to Congressional representatives that there was widespread agreement from farmers on this proposed tax. All the while, farmers were dissenting openly on listservs and websites and sharing their distaste for the proposal with OTA leadership and one another.

Just as it appeared that organic farmers were going to be saddled with a tax that would line the pockets of the OTA and its corporate members, the Trump administration shut down the whole dog and pony show.

You can read more about the failed checkoff program and the OTA’s dismay, including some commentary by Cornucopia Codirector Mark Kastel, at Feed Navigator. Read Full Article »

Addressing the News Release Today by the Organic Industry’s Prominent Lobby Group, the Organic Trade Association

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

Balancing Quotables and Talking Points

The Cornucopia Institute, a prominent organic industry corporate/governmental watchdog, responds to the Organic Trade Association’s current approach to addressing documented, wholesale fraud in the importation of organic commodities. In contrast, Cornucopia has petitioned the USDA to engage in immediate, emergency rulemaking emulating the decisive action the European Union has taken to address organized crime’s involvement in organic exports.

Read the OTA’s full press release outlining their plan, “Organic Trade Association kicks off pilot project to deter organic fraud.”

For one of the latest gyrations in the many documented cases of fraud, or suspicions of organic fraud, please see The Cornucopia’s Institute’s recent release on an intercepted shipment from the former Soviet Bloc:

Quotes attributed to:
Mark A. Kastel, Codirector, The Cornucopia Institute
608-625-2042, [email protected]

Mark Kastel
Cornucopia Codirector

Not to worry!

This is from the organic industry’s big lobby group that was silent for over a decade after The Cornucopia Institute first brought to the attention of the organic community improprieties involving the importation of Chinese “organic” soybeans. The Organic Trade Association (OTA) didn’t have anything to say, other than praising the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), until the organic sh*t hit the fan following the publication and documentation of massive fraud from Eastern Europe by The Washington Post in 2017.

And why wouldn’t they have anything to say? OTA members were profiting from the exponential increase in cheap certified organic imports from untrustworthy countries with endemic levels of commercial fraud.

OTA lobbyists had nothing to say after Europe prohibited certain imports and specific certifiers that were implicated — those certifiers and countries continue to have a green light into U.S. ports.

The foxes are now very serious about guarding the hen house.

Quotes attributed to:
Anne Ross, JD, LL.M., Farm Policy Analyst, The Cornucopia Institute
843-209-1732, [email protected]
Ms. Ross is Cornucopia’s lead researcher on import fraud in the organic industry.

Anne Ross
Cornucopia Farm Policy Analyst

This comes awfully late.

The guide the OTA created and references in the news release is comprehensive. It outlines ways businesses can implement internal policies based on risk to identify fraud in their supply chains.

But it’s utility is worthless if certified entities aren’t incentivized by regulatory requirements and the risk of meaningful penalties to actually implement these policies. Unfortunately, for some multinational/multimillion-dollar companies, the incentive is profit, not integrity.

Without regulatory changes that require all entities in the supply chain be certified, backed by strict USDA/NOP enforcement, there is no guide (no matter how thorough) or task force (no matter how dedicated) that will deter and stop fraud. Read Full Article »

Cornucopia is Hiring!

Monday, May 21st, 2018

The Cornucopia Institute is now hiring a Development Manager and a Development & Communications Associate.

Cornucopia acts as an organic industry watchdog protecting organics and alternative marketing mechanisms allowing farmers and consumers to connect. We seek to defend the integrity of the organic food label from governmental regulatory indifference as well as from agribusinesses profiteering from unethical and questionable food production and agricultural practices. Our staff are committed to ensuring that organic and local food remain true to the human and environmental health promises that they were founded on.

A heartfelt passion for protecting the environment, the good food movement, human health, humane livestock husbandry, and social/economic justice for family farmers is essential for either position.

The full job descriptions and details for application are available at
Please do not send email or call.

Read Full Article »