Press Releases Archive

Investigation: “Factory Farms” Producing Massive Quantities of Organic Milk and Eggs

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Regulations Not Being Enforced—Watchdog Asks for USDA to Remove Program Management

In what has been called one of the largest fraud investigations in the history of the organic industry, The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, announced filing formal legal complaints against 14 industrial livestock operations producing milk, meat and eggs being marketed, allegedly illegally, as organic.

Aurora Dairy, Stratford, Texas
18,000-head, gaming the system.

After years of inaction by the USDA, Cornucopia contracted for aerial photography in nine states, from West Texas to New York and Maryland, over the past eight months. What they found confirmed earlier site visits: a systemic pattern of corporate agribusiness interests operating industrial-scale confinement livestock facilities providing no legitimate grazing, or even access to the outdoors, as required by federal organic regulations.

A photo gallery of the apparent abuses by the giant certified organic operations in question can be found at

“The federal organic regulations make it very clear that all organic livestock must have access to the outdoors and that ruminants, like dairy cows, must have access to pasture,” said Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute. “The vast majority of these massive, industrial-scale facilities, some managing 10,000-20,000 head of cattle, and upwards of 1 million laying hens, had 100% of their animals confined in giant buildings or feedlots.” Read Full Article »

Powerful Organic Trade/Lobby Group Recruiting Family Farmers

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Contact:  Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042

OTA/Corporate Interests Creating “Trojan Horse” to Soften Image, Increase Influence

CORNUCOPIA, WIS: In a move that would look just as cynical as if General Motors decided to create their own workers-union, the powerful Organic Trade Association (OTA) has created their own Farmer Advisory Council and is now discounting memberships to smaller family farmers in an attempt to soften their current image as a hard-knuckled corporate lobby group.
Over the past few years the OTA has received increasing criticism for their lobby efforts that have allegedly helped water down the federal standards governing organic farming and food production.  The latest dustup in Washington surrounding OTA activities concerns their attempt to sell Congress, and the organic farming community, on a scheme that will tax farmers and other industry participants to do research and promotional work.

“Trying to recruit farmers is an attempt by the OTA to redeem their damaged credibility and sell their agenda on Capitol Hill,” said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector at The Cornucopia Institute.  “The agribusiness lobby is also attempting to dilute the influence of nonprofit groups and cooperatives that legitimately represent the interests of family-scale farmers — and frequently differ with the OTA on regulatory policy.”

Over the past two years the OTA has run into a buzzsaw of opposition from farmers, and the groups that represent them, after proposing a commodity checkoff that would create an estimated $40 million per year.  “Farmers are understandably skeptical about being forced to pay into such a fund because of a long history of corruption, mismanagement and lack of effectiveness in existing checkoff programs showcasing milk mustaches, ‘incredible edible eggs,’ and ‘the other white meat’ (pork),” Kastel said.

The OTA is held in low esteem by many farmers and organic food advocates because of their past history and alleged duplicity in dealing with other interests in the organic food movement.

“This move is consistent with a long pattern of agribusiness executives treating family farmers as ignorant and naïve,” said Richard Parrott, a Buhl, Idaho organic beef and crop producer who has been certified since 1992.  “Why should farmers trust corporations that buy organic commodities from factory farms, and have pitted U.S. farmers, like me, against Chinese exports, when they tell us they are looking out for our interests?”

One of the crops Parrott produces is dried beans, an organic commodity that has been dominated by imports for a number of years.

The trade-lobby group is also looked at as a major political force behind recent highly controversial moves at the USDA that significantly water down the independent power of the National Organic Standards Board, an expert advisory panel Congress set up to protect organic rulemaking from undue corporate influence.

When the OTA started out, during the 1980s as the Organic Foods Production Association of North America (OFPANA), the organization was widely recognized as an umbrella group with many farmers, organic certifiers, nonprofits and processors (all of which, at the time, were independently owned).  Since then, the OTA has morphed into what The Cornucopia Institute calls “just another powerful, trade-lobby group funded and controlled by multibillion-dollar, multinational food corporations.”

The OTA is now controlled and funded by large corporate agribusinesses such as Smucker’s, General Mills, Hershey and Kellogg’s.  Unlike the majority of organic farmers, many of the most active and influential members of the OTA earn the majority of their revenue selling non-organic food.

In recent years, there have been virtually no working farmers as OTA members (other than a few that are affiliated with the corporate participants), and a large percentage of the nonprofits were given, unsolicited, free memberships.

“When they doubled their dues a few years ago they lost most of their farmers and other individual members,” added Kastel.  OTA membership now costs between hundreds of dollars a year to $35,000 per year, on a sliding scale (and many corporate members make additional contributions in the tens of thousands of dollars).

The OTA just created a new class of membership, with $50 a year dues, for small farmers with gross annual revenue of under $250,000.  The farmers also have to be members of one of the organizations represented on the OTA’s Farmer Advisory Council.

Smaller farmers as OTA members would be in stark contrast to existing members such as Aurora Organic Dairy, a giant vertically-integrated operation with a number of facilities in Texas and Colorado milking thousands of cows each.  Aurora was found by USDA investigators to have been “willfully” violating organic standards, one of the largest scandals in the industry’s history, but they continued as OTA members and Aurora executives even subsequently served as spokespersons for the group.

“It’s a bit Orwellian, to say the least, that their Advisory Council is made up of not only farmers, most of whom are board members or have some direct relationship with organic businesses, but also includes executives of vertically integrated agricultural operations owning hundreds of thousands of animals,” said Darin Von Ruden, a Westby, Wisconsin organic dairyman and president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, an organization that has spent the better part of the last century fighting consolidation and the corporate takeover of our nation’s farming sector.

Cornucopia, a 10,000-member, nonprofit, farm policy research group characterized the lobby group’s recent public relations push as “a not-so-veiled attempt by the OTA to greenwash their corporate approach to organics.”

“OTA’s job is to represent business; it pays lip service to respecting and supporting family farmers. But when it comes down to truly respecting our opinions, on issues of organic integrity or ones that affect our livelihood as farmers, they obviously intend to push their agenda by creating what smells like a Trojan Horse of a grassroots group ,” Parrott lamented.


“So we have corporate executives, corporate lawyers and corporate lobbyists (with companies that buy agricultural commodities from farmers) now representing producers? Or are they just having a problem convincing rank-and-file farmers that their $40 million a year checkoff (tax) is legitimate?” Cornucopia’s Kastel cynically asked.

After the Arthur Harvey federal lawsuit ruling, the organic community negotiated amongst different organic organizations with the goal of approaching Congress in a unified manner to request legislation that would “dial back to pre-Harvey.”

The Harvey decision made all synthetics illegal in organic farming and food production (and most of us in the community, at the time, felt comfortable with the NOSB process of carefully reviewing non-organic substances to assure they were safe and appropriate for use in organics).  If the Harvey ruling had stood, a high percentage of certified organic, processed food would leave the market.

“The OTA participated in these discussions, said they would collaborate, and then, behind everyone’s back, went to Congress and sold their own deal — which was adopted by Congress and weakened the law rather than simply restoring the way the NOP/NOSB had been operating,” said Kastel.

Biotech and Agribusinesses Spending Heavily to Defeat State GMO Food Labeling Votes

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Contact:  Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042

Biotech and Agribusinesses Spending Heavily to Defeat State GMO Food Labeling Votes

The Cornucopia Institute releases red-flagging pro/con food brands
involved with Colorado and Oregon Initiatives

Cornucopia, WI:  Citizen initiatives on the November 4 ballots in both Colorado and Oregon would mandate clear labeling of genetically engineered (GE) ingredients on food packages.  The pending votes have sparked a high-priced battleground pitting consumer and farmer advocates against multi-billion-dollar agribusiness corporations.

Opposition to the state food labeling measures is coming from giant biotech companies (DuPont, Dow and Monsanto), that sell genetically engineered crops, and the well-heeled Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), a national business lobbying organization.  Millions of dollars are being spent on the two campaigns with advertising blitzes underway.

Now The Cornucopia Institute has released a detailed infographic that reveals which food companies are supporting or opposing the food labeling initiatives (with many of the major manufacturers opposing passage owning leading brands in the natural/organic marketplace).

“Many consumers will likely be surprised to learn that owners and management of some of their favorite organic and natural brands are fighting against the right of consumers to know what is in their food,” says Mark Kastel, Codirector of The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group.  “We want to spotlight this issue so that consumers can vote in the marketplace for manufacturers and brands that reflect their personal values.”

Mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food ingredients (commonly called GMOs — standing for genetically modified organisms) at the state level is viewed as a watershed event by many industry observers, given the prolonged inaction at the federal level.  Earlier this year Vermont passed a state law requiring GMO food ingredient labeling, and the states of Connecticut and Maine has adopted similar legislation that will take effect when other neighboring states pass such laws.

Last year a state GMO food labeling initiative was narrowly defeated in Washington by a 51-49 percent margin.  In California in 2012, a GMO food labeling initiative lost by a similarly slim margin.  Biotech interests spent close to $50 million opposing the initiatives in California and Washington.  And the GMA and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), another trade-lobby group, are now suing Vermont over its legislatively adopted food labeling law.

At the national level, Monsanto, its biotech allies, and the GMA in particular, have been credited for bottlenecking action on a federal law although they have recently rallied behind a new proposal that would outlaw state GMO food labeling laws while permitting “voluntary” labeling by companies of such ingredients (voluntary labeling is already being allowed by the FDA).

More than 60 countries around the world require the labeling of foods containing GMO ingredients.  “Interestingly, in Europe where GMO labeling is required, consumers overwhelming choose to buy organic and non-GMO products,” said Kastel.  “The industrial food lobby is fully cognizant of the European experience and what’s at stake — that’s why they’re fighting like hell against these grassroots efforts in states like Colorado and Oregon.”

North America’s largest independent organic breakfast foods manufacturer, Nature’s Path, has been actively promoting and funding a “yes” vote.  “Nature’s Path USA has supported citizens’ fundamental right to know if their food contains GMOs, with a simple label declaration.  Then they can choose whether or not they want to buy it,” says Arran Stephens, the company’s CEO and cofounder.

“One of many great qualities of organic agriculture is in the superior taste and higher nutrient profile — the natural result of a farming system that emphasizes long term soil fertility, farm family security and non-toxic ecological balance,” Stephens added.

Other prominent commercial backers of state citizen initiatives, viewed as heroes in the organic movement, include Dr. Bronner’s and Bob’s Red Mill.

“As a lover of science and as an activist, it’s clear to me that labeling genetically engineered food just makes sense.  Consumers have a right to know whether the food they’re eating has been genetically engineered to withstand huge amounts of pesticide that contaminates our food, wreaks havoc in the environment and ends up on our dinner plates,” says the company’s CEO David Bronner, describing why the company has donated $715,500 to the state initiative campaigns.

Additional organizations throwing their financial weight behind the consumer’s right to know include theOrganic Consumer’s FundFood Democracy Action and and Presence Marketing.

The biggest single donor to the “NO” vote is biotech giant Monsanto, having poured more than $6.3 million into the state campaigns.  Pepsi has donated $2 million and General Mills has donated more than $1.5 million.   Other heavyweight opponents include KraftDow AgroSciences, J.M. SmuckerLand O’ Lakes and ConAgra.

All told, opponents of the consumers’ right-to-know what is in their food have already raised more than $15.1 million, while supporters of the state initiatives have gathered nearly $3.3 million.

“We doubt if loyal customers of Naked Juice (PepsiCo), Dagoba chocolate (Hershey’s) RW Knutson orSanta Cruz juices (Smuckers) realize that their corporate parents are taking the profits from their patronage and stabbing them in the back by investing to defeat GMO labeling on food packages,” the Cornucopia’s Kastel lamented.

“Consumers are increasingly interested in ‘voting with their forks,’ and many want to support companies that share their values,” notes Jason Cole, a researcher for Cornucopia who compiled the data for the infographic.  “We hope the information we are providing on corporate involvement with the upcoming votes on food labeling will help consumers make informed choices in grocery store aisles.”

– 30 –


Supporters of Measure 92, the GMO food labeling initiative in Oregon, have raised $2.96 million with opponents of the initiative collecting $5.41 million according to state records.

In Colorado, supporters of Proposition 105, the GMO food labeling initiative, have raised $320,000 while opponents of the initiative have collected $9.7 million.

The Cornucopia Institute’s board of directors has formally endorsed the Oregon state initiative (they have yet to meet and take action regarding the Colorado initiative).

Cornucopia: USDA Maintains Pattern of Corporate Appointments

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Contact:  Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042
Will Fantle, 715-839-7731

Organic Governance Undermined by
Cozy Relationship with Agribusiness Lobbyists

One of the nation’s preeminent organic industry watchdogs, The Cornucopia Institute, expressed renewed criticism of the process used for the selection of four new appointees to the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).  The NOSB is a 15-member volunteer board composed of various organic stakeholders that makes decisions regarding any synthetic materials allowed for use in organic agriculture and food production and also advises the USDA Secretary on policy.

cornucopia-we-own-it-button“The selection process was conducted in secrecy despite requests to cast sunlight on the decision making and solicit input from a very engaged community of organic farmers, businesses, and consumers,” said Will Fantle, Cornucopia’s Codirector. “We think a more transparent process would ensure the selection of the best and brightest for the various vacancies on the board — instead of, once again, appeasing the organic corporate lobby.”

Cornucopia has been critical of past appointments that were more representative of the agribusiness sector than meeting requirements detailed in the federal law that created the board, the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA).  As powerful food processing interests have increasingly sought to add synthetic and non-organic materials to foods, the NOSB has become a focal point of controversy over what some deem a watering down of organic integrity.

Under both the Bush and Obama administrations the USDA has violated OFPA by appointing agribusiness executives, instead of those “owning or operating” a certified organic farm, to sit in seats intended to represent farmers. Currently, two of the four “farmers” on the board were employees of large agribusinesses when appointed.

“Congress deliberately set aside the majority of seats for independent organic stakeholders as a way to prevent the kind of unseemly corporate influence we have witnessed in recent years on the NOSB,” Fantle lamented.

Arkansas Egg Co. Summers, ARThe new farmer-appointee, Ashley Swaffer, is an employee of Arkansas Egg Company, a large industrial-scale, vertically-integrated producer of eggs based in Summers, Arkansas.

“Although Ms. Swaffer may technically meet the qualification set forth by Congress, in that she is involved in managing Arkansas Egg’s operation, I doubt if Congress had in mind stacking the board with agribusinesses historically operating ‘factory farms’ as representing the nation’s organic producers,” Fantle added.

When learning she had been passed over for an appointment to the NOSB, Wisconsin dairy farmer Rebecca Goodman said, “I am a hands-on organic dairy farmer working with my animals and land every day. I guess I am not suave enough to serve my fellow organic farmers. After three attempts, I will not be applying again.”

At least four other experienced, family-scale farmers had applied for the vacancy on the board in addition to Ms. Goodman.

A seat reserved for an organic “handler” manufacturer was filled by Tom Chapman, a purchasing manager with Clif Bar in Emeryville, California.

Unlike the appointment to the farmer seat, which Cornucopia challenged, the farm policy research group articulated disappointment in the appointment of an employee of Clif Bar, a company that sells a minimal amount of their product line as certified organic.

“The USDA Secretary could have chosen a representative of a company that sells 100% organic products, rather than a company that offers manufacturers less than 20% of their product line in a certified organic form,” stated Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for The Cornucopia Institute.

The balance of Clif Bar’s other products either do not qualify for any organic labeling or are labeled “made with organic ingredients.”

Many companies in the natural foods marketplace can qualify for “made with organic” labeling by choosing organic for the majority of their cheaper ingredients (such as oats in a food bar) while sourcing more expensive ingredients in conventional form or adding synthetic materials that would not be allowed in products labeled certified organic.

In addition to conventional ingredients many Clif Bar products contain synthetic and non-organic materials such as soy protein isolate and milk protein concentrate (MPCs).

“Maybe it’s a general conflict of interest to have companies that are primarily involved in non–certified organic manufacturing, sitting on the National Organic Standards Board,” Kastel added. “Clif Bar’s product line is basically competing with companies, at a higher price point, that are truly organic. If they are using lots of ingredients that are not presently approved for organics, will they be predisposed to open up organic production for increased use of synthetics?”

In addition to Chapman and Swaffer, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack also appointed Lisa de Lima, of Grandville, Maryland, with MOM’s Organic Market, to fill the retailer seat. The Secretary appointed Paula Daniels, a Los Angeles lawyer who sits on a number of public panels, to serve in the environmentalist/conservationist slot.

Both Fantle and Kastel emphasized that their current concerns and disappointments are aimed at the USDA Secretary and the appointment process rather than the individual appointees.

“We look forward to working with all these individuals, and unless proven otherwise, we will assume, that their motivation to serve on the board is in the interest of all,” said Kastel. “We will support their volunteer efforts, just as we have supported all board members, with research materials enabling them to make good judgment calls on behalf of the organic community.”



“I have been waiting to hear from the NOP [National Organic Program] at the USDA about their next selections for the NOSB since September 1,” said Rebecca Goodman, a Wonewoc, Wisconsin, dairy farmer.  “I never dreamed that I would hear through The Cornucopia Institute.”

In 2008 and 2009, while converting their 800,000-bird operation to organic production, Arkansas Egg was the subject of enforcement actions by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Last year they signed a consent decree with the state of Arkansas and the EPA related to remediating problems concerning manure and liquid waste.

If there is a common thread in the new appointments it is the Organic Trade Association (OTA), the industry’s business lobby.  Three of the four appointees work for operations that are OTA members.

“For a volunteer board, the work of the NOSB is quite demanding, consuming 8-12 hours a week, and much more during the twice yearly full meetings of the board,” observed Fantle.  “We respect anyone who wants to take on this responsibility.  It is our hope that the new appointees will rise above any biases in their backgrounds and work in good faith for the entirety of the organic community and organic food and agriculture.”

Cornucopia recently released a scorecard of the voting records of NOSB members.  The analysis seeks to capture voting patterns over the past five years that encourage or weaken organic integrity, and it notes distinct tendencies from various stakeholder interests.   It illustrated a decisive split between legitimate farmers, representatives of nonprofit organizations, and other independent stakeholders, as opposed to members of the NOSB representing corporate agribusiness. It can be found at:

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Contact:  Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042

Corporate Lobbyists/Influence Peddlers Eroding Organic Standards

Analysis Illustrates USDA/Agribusiness Collusion

National Organic Standards Board Voting Scorecard Released

CORNUCOPIA, WIS: A comprehensive voting analysis of members of the National Organic Standards Board, an expert body formed by Congress to insulate the governance of the industry from undue corporate influence, clearly illustrates how illegal appointments to the board by current and past USDA Secretaries have subverted congressional intent.

The study, produced by The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, analyzed the voting record of each individual board member over the past five years, including corporate representatives who were placed on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) filling seats that were specifically set aside for farmers and other independent organic industry stakeholders.

“In recent years, just as with the polarized U.S. Supreme Court, many critical issues were decided by one-vote margins,” said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector and Senior Farm Policy Analyst at Cornucopia. “Almost universally, the NOSB is split along ideological lines (corporate agribusiness versus farmers and consumers) on whether to allow controversial synthetic and non-organic additives in organic food or weak animal husbandry standards utilizing the ‘factory farm’ production model of organic meat, eggs and dairy products.”

Cornucopia’s analysis comes two years after the policy group released a white paper entitled The Organic Watergate. That report documented how a number of risky and/or gimmicky synthetic or non-organic materials were approved for use in organics. It highlighted a couple of board members, appointed as “farmers,” who did not meet the intent and legal qualifications that Congress had set out for composition of the board.

“We have two members of the current board, both sitting in seats that Congress had designated for someone who must ‘own or operate an organic farming operation’ but who were actually agribusiness employees when appointed to the five-year term on the NOSB,” said Kastel.

Of the four seats reserved for farmers on the current board, one is held by an employee of the giant California berry marketing firm, Driscoll’s (which does not grow organic strawberries but rather relies on contract farmers), and one by an individual who, when appointed, worked for the country’s largest organic marketing cooperative, CROPP ($928 million in annual revenue).  The voting records of these two agribusiness employees are significantly lower than those of the actual farmer members of the NOSB.

Voting records for the current 15-member NOSB board members include three independent members with a history of voting over 90% of the time to block practices eroding organic integrity.  These board members are Jennifer Taylor, public interest/consumer representative and academic; Jay Feldman, environmentalist and executive director of Beyond Pesticides; and Colehour Bondera, a certified organic farmer from Hawaii.

Voting scores of NOSB agribusiness representatives include those of Harold Austin (10% — handler with Zirkle Fruit), John Foster (16% — handler with WhiteWave/Earthbound Farms), Carmela Beck (17% — “farmer” with Driscoll’s) and Wendy Fulwider (34% — “farmer” with Organic Valley/Whole Foods-GAP).

The study’s analysis was based on Cornucopia’s policy positions over the past five years, prepared by experienced organic farmers, policy experts, former certification officials, and staff scientists with doctorates in related agricultural disciplines.

“The policy positions Cornucopia has publicly taken (and used for the scoring criteria) are clearly in the mainstream of thought within the organic community and are consistent with those taken by the vast majority of other consumer, environmental and farmer-supported organizations,” Kastel affirmed.

Kastel noted that a separate analysis by Cornucopia compared the industry watchdog’s official written and oral public testimony on issues before the NOSB with that of other nonprofit groups.

That analysis showed that Cornucopia’s policy positions were 100% compatible with that of 10 of the 12 nonprofit groups actively involved in lobbying at the NOSB over the past two years, including the Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, Organic Consumers Association, Beyond Pesticides, and Consumers Union. Cornucopia scored an 86% compatibility with the policy positions of the National Organic Coalition, an umbrella group made up of farm organizations, retailers, and organic businesses.

Dominic Marchese, a long-time certified organic beef producer from Farmdale, Ohio, observed: “If the USDA had complied with the law, and appointed somebody like myself, a working organic farmer who met the qualifications to serve on the NOSB set up by Congress, instead of corporate imposters, many of the close votes over the last five years would have gone the other way.”

Marchese had applied for the NOSB three times in past years.  One of those years saw USDA Secretary Vilsack choosing Driscoll’s Carmela Beck for the farmer seat

In addition to the well-defined “independent” and “corporate” voting blocs, Cornucopia found that about a quarter of the board qualified as true swing voters.

“After the publication of The Organic Watergate, a number of board members and other organic industry stakeholders, including myself, were surprised by the degree that the NOSB system of vetting synthetics and non-organic materials allowed for temporary use in organics was just plain not working,” said Cornucopia’s Kastel.

In addition to corporate members being illegally appointed to the board, Cornucopia’s OrganicWatergate report also uncovered that agribusiness executives and consultants had been hired by the USDA to do “independent” technical reviews of materials brought before the board. The apparent conflict of interest and bias of these contractors is highly disturbing since the NOSB is not a scientific panel and Congress provided for access to independent scientists to advise the body.

“I think the more recent record of some swing voters indicates that the NOSB is now taking a much more critical view of what is presented to the board by the corporate lobbyists that claim the materials are essential to organic production,” Kastel added.

The law governing organic production, the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, calls for the NOSB to vet all non-organic materials to assure they are not a danger to human health or the environment and are actually necessary for the production of organic food.

Cornucopia’s analysis shows that some swing voters have seen their voting scores materially change over the past two years. As an example, the voting record of newly elected board chairperson Jean Richardson, a respected academic and an organic inspector, has moved up to 67%.

Cornucopia has stated that one of their goals in performing this research is to illustrate to the Secretary of Agriculture that his appointments will be closely scrutinized in terms of legality and as to whether he has sold out the organic movement through undermining the will of Congress and the majority of industry participants in favor of corporate profit and expansion.

“We also want to make sure we hold the corporations accountable that have employees on the board, corporations like Whole Foods, WhiteWave (Earthbound Farms/Horizon/Silk), General Mills (Cascadian Farms/Muir Glen), and Driscoll’s,” said Kastel. “If you want our patronage the performance of your employees on this board has to be consistent with your marketing rhetoric in support of organics.”

Many organic farming pioneers would never have supported the USDA overseeing the industry they founded if Congress hadn’t agreed to create a strong NOSB as a defense against business as usual in Washington, an all-too-common cozy working relationship between agribusiness and the USDA.

Observed Barry Flamm, immediate past chair of the NOSB, “I hope the Cornucopia analysis of voting records, which will continue going forward, will forewarn NOSB members that their voting behavior will be closely scrutinized and, if they are employees of corporations or certifiers with economic interests, that some of their customers will also be judging their service on the board as well.”



The Cornucopia Institute’s analysis includes all contested NOSB votes in the prior five years (for both current and past board members).  It can be found at:

Cornucopia’s analysis of the policy positions of other nonprofit organizations, corporate participants (processors, marketers, retailers, trade organizations), and certifiers can be found at:

Cornucopia said that they modeled their voting scorecard after similar guides produced by other groups such as the League of Conservation Voters and the National Farmers Union. The farm policy research group’s Kastel observed, “I’m sure if you used the POV (point of view) of a group on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum in terms of organics, such as the Organic Trade Association, the results of the analysis of NOSB voting records would turn out markedly different. This study reflects the positions held by the vast majority of public interest groups monitoring organic governance at the USDA.”

After the publication of The Organic Watergate, the NOSB began to take a more judicious approach, becoming more skeptical of corporate lobbyists’ safety and essentiality claims about synthetic and non-organic materials.  In response, last fall the USDA’s National Organic Program unilaterally changed the rules on removing these materials from the National List of ingredients approved in organics. The new rules make it demonstrably harder to remove these substances every five years as they “sunset.”

A broad section of the organic community has vigorously protested these moves, which were made, in conflict with the law, with no input from either the NOSB or the organic community at large.  Protesters have included the two key congressional authors of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon.

Examples of hypocrisies by corporate representatives on the board include:

1. Representatives of Whole Foods and Organic Valley voting for, at sunset, continued use of the coagulant and thickening agent carrageenan, when their respective companies utilize the ingredient in their products.

Carrageenan has been controversial for years, with all industry-funded studies declaring it perfectly safe while independent medical researchers (mostly funded by the National Institutes of Health) find it to be a potent intestinal inflammatory agent causing serious disease and even cancer.

Many industry observers contend that representatives of companies like Whole Foods and Organic Valley, due to conflict of interest, should not be permitted to participate on NOSB votes that economically benefit their employers.

2. When the NOSB debated tighter standards, in an effort to force industrial-scale livestock producers to provide outdoor access for laying hens and other poultry, the Organic Valley employee on the NOSB voted in favor of providing a minimum of 2 ft.², outdoors, for each laying hen.

Organic Valley sets standards for their own farmers requiring a minimum of 5 ft.². In the European Union chickens are required to have a minimum of 43 ft.² of pasture and no more than 3,000 birds per building. Currently in the U.S., factory farms producing the majority of all “organic” eggs are providing no legitimate outdoor access, in buildings that hold as many as 100,000 birds.

Agricultural policy experts at Cornucopia have stated that a 2 ft.² requirement would be woefully inadequate in terms of meeting the intent of the organic standards, promoting the humane treatment of animals, environmental protection and producing eggs with superior taste and nutritional profiles.

The Cornucopia Institute has also warned USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack that it would be viewed as “hostile and cynical” if he made a new appointment to the NOSB of someone who technically qualified as a farmer but has acted as a spokesperson for a major corporate player in the organic arena.

As an example, Dean Foods/WhiteWave has paid thousands to fly farmers around the country representing the company, including in front of the NOSB.

“Although these farmers might legally be qualified as ‘owning or operating an organic farm,’ they would surely be viewed as carrying the water for their corporate benefactors, once again undermining the collaborative framework that Congress had intended,” said Kastel.

A scorecard that contains all of the votes, including the uncontested votes, can also be found at:

Editor’s Note:   All statements can be attributable to either The Cornucopia Institute or its Codirector and Senior Farm Policy Analyst, Mark A. Kastel. Please contact us for additional quotes or background information.