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Organic Consumers Association

Open Letter to the Organic Community: Why is the Organic Trade Association Controlled by Representatives of the "Natural" Products Industry?

As an organic consumer and employee at an organic farmers co-operative I became concerned with conventional/gmo food industry influence of OTA policies and initiatives. Therefore, I wrote the following letter to the OTA Board and received the following response [see below and link to PDF versions above].

It's clear that the only viable solution to bring organic integrity back to OTA is to seize the democratic initiative and vote in candidates that work for 100% organic companies and organizations. Luckily a number of 100% Organic companies and organizations will be fielding candidates for the upcoming OTA election. There is a real opportunity to take back the board and fulfill a true agenda of protecting and promoting organics. But this only happens if we get the vote out. Only 20% of OTA members voted in the last OTA board elections, yet 60% of OTA members are from small organic businesses. So the vote to bring back organic integrity to OTA is well within our reach. Check back with OCA in the coming weeks to see a full slate of the 100%ers who are running for the board. In the meantime if you have any questions please feel free to email me: jason[a]farmerdirect.coop

Jason Freeman
Farmer Direct Co-operative Ltd
Regina, SK   S4P 0P5   Canada
www.farmerdirect.coop

 

March 31, 2011

Organic Trade Association Board of Directors
Re: Organic Integrity and Democratic Renewal at OTA

Dear Board,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to voice my concerns regarding organic integrity and democratic renewal at OTA.

The latest industry infighting, regarding policy positions on GE Alfalfa, can be prevented if OTA engages in a process of democratic renewal. This process of democratic renewal will provide all members with a greater voice and a democratic consensus based decision making process to follow when discussing and voting on OTA policy. If a member does not take advantage of this process, yet complains after the fact, OTA can stand by the process and marginalize uninformed dissent. Thereby we can end the infighting. But the infighting will only stop when decisions are made consensually and if the system put in place after renewal is trusted.

The systems of democracy we have inherited, whether they are parliamentary, a repulic or an association with a president and a board of directors are well over 500 years old. As evidenced by the protests from Eygpt to Madison and the ongoing infighting and dissent within our own industry/community these systems are not serving us and need to evolve. We need to evolve and innovate so that all voices have access to a trusted process.

The most significant democratic change OTA could adopt is a bottom up decision making process. Using the Domestic Fair Trade Association (www.thedfta.org) as an example, the board does not vote to accept or adopt policy positions. The membership votes to adopt policy positions. The board manages a consensus based decision making process to bring policy and wording of that policy to a point where a vote can be taken. This is significant, as language is extremely important and such a process could have prevented the current division within the organic industry/community with the use of the term 'co-existence'in relation to GE alfalfa. The point is not to place blame but acknowledge that our governance systems failed us, if our goal is harmony.

It also helps to acknowledge that, in the eyes of government and others, OTA is in a position to speak for the industry and this even means for non-members. Therefore, with democratic renewal, it is also important to give non-members the opportunity to comment, without a vote, on proposed OTA policy positions. This can easily be done with current computer technology, through the OTA website or survey monkey. Of course, nonmembers will not have the right to vote. However, if one takes a co-operative approach this reaching out for diverse organic opinions will only strengthen OTA and lead to future membership. The goal is industry and
community wide co-operation so that the infighting stops.

So to summarize thus far the following are my suggestions:

1. OTA's board agrees to undertake a processes of democratic renewal which will engage membership in the following:

- development of a consensus based decision making process for policy and other important OTA deliverables

- determine the form of democratic decision making: consensus based, consensus minus one, 2/3 majority

It is important that from the beginning the process is open, transparent, membership is kept informed and that member participation is straight forward and accesible.

Furthermore, democratic renewal provides the OTA with the opportunity to be an innovator among national associations. Our actions will have far reaching positive effects beyond the organic community.

But democratic renewal will be difficult without a practical commitment to organic integrity. OTA must deal with two issues impacting organic integrity.

1. Implication of board member companies in ongoing USDA organic fraud investigations

2. The appearance of a conflict of interest with some board members in relation to ownership of organic, 'natural', conventional/GE brands.

OTA has a number of board members whos companies have been implicated in the Promiseland dairy decertification. The NOP is investigating these board members in relation to this organic fraud. Until the NOP investigation is concluded and made public these board members should recuse themselves from the board of OTA. If they don't OTA should censore these board members and force them to step aside. Its unconscionable that the largest Organic trade association in North America should have board members that are under investigation for organic fraud. It weakens the organic industries claims of integrity.

Additionally, with many OTA board members there is the appearance of a conflict of interest as these members own organic, natural and conventional food brands. The grass roots is questioning these companies' focus and commitment to organics, let alone their commitment to American or Canadian organic family farms. The actions of some of these companies appears to support this questioning. For example, one of the board member's category leading organic soymilk brands, went from soymilk made from American organic soybeans, to soymilk made with Chinese 'organic' soybeans, to eliminating all but three organic soybeans SKUs and relaunching their soymilk as 'natural'. Again, I am not saying this business strategy is wrong or right but it does make one question this company's commitment to organic agriculture. Additionally, profits from the sale of organic brands maybe invested into this company's or parent company's natural or conventional brands. Thus part of the conflict.

Further more, there are questions as to GMO in these natural and conventional brands. Therefore, we have the conflict of companies who sit on the OTA board and who are marketing organic brands and also marketing natural and conventional food brands that may contain GMO.

In order for OTA to fix this integrity gap I have the following suggestions. Again these are suggestions, as OTA begins its process of democratic renewal membership must be provided the opportunity to comment and make suggestions themselves.

1. OTA board seats must come from companies or co-ops that derive 95% of their sales through the marketing of organic products.

2. All members running for OTA board elections must provide a transparency disclosure to inform OTA members who their company is owned by and any natural, conventional or GMO interests or brands owned by them or their parent company.

3. OTA move towards a consensus based policy decision making process. 6500 heads are better than 15.

4. A minimum of at least 1 permanent board seat for an organic family farmer with expenses paid for travel, lodging and other related board expenses.

5. A minimum of at least 1 permanent board seat for an organic farm worker with expenses paid for travel, lodging and other related board expenses.

I'd appreciate if the board could get back to me after ExpoWest. My ideal resolution to this situation is that OTA send out a press release engaging membership in democratic renewal. I can work with the board to develop the process. If I don't hear back from OTA within a reasonable time frame I would like to go to OTA members and the greater community to see how they feel about this proposal.

Best Regards,

Jason Freeman

Mr. Freeman has been an organic consumer since 1994 and has worked managing a co-operative of organic family grain farmers on the Canadian prairies since 2002.

 

Position

Name

Company

Organic Only

Natural Products

Comments

President

Julia Sabin

Smucker Natural Foods Inc

No

Yes

SantCruz drinks offer Natural as do all Smuckers brands.

Vice President

Sarah Bird

Annie's Homegrown

No

Yes

Their website says macoron is made from real chees and 100% organic pasta. In otherword is not organic cheese.

Vice President Canada

Gunta Vitins

SunOpta

No

Yes

IP soy etc and Natural products

Treasurer

Chuck Marcy

Healthy Food Holdings

No

Yes

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/healthy-food-holdings-to-acquire-breyersr-yogurt-business-53291202.html

Secretary

Matt McLean

Uncle Matt's Organic Inc

Yes




Tony Bedard

Frontier Natural Products Cooperative

No

Yes



Tom Cowell

Growers International Organic Sales

No


Parent Company sells conventional crop inputs (Paterson Gobal Foods)


Nicole Dawes

Late July Organic Scacks

Yes




Chris Ely

Applegate Farms Inc

No

Yes

One of the larger Natural meat companies.


Kristen Holt

Quality Assuance International

Yes


Does the Organic certification of most of the companies who do Natural on the board.


Todd Linsky

Cal Organic / Grimmway Farms

Yes


Grimmway Farms (not sure but appears not to be Organic)


Melody Myer

Alberts Organics

No

Yes

UNFI owns them and they sell Natural mostly.


Kelly Shea

White Wave Foods

No

Yes

Dean Foods is the parent company, have Natural and Organic under same brand names.


Craig Weakely

Small Planet Foods

No

Yes

General Mills


Leslie Zuck

Pennsylvania Certified Organic

Yes




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