ORGANIC VIEW

A publication of the Organic Consumers Association

MEMBERSHIP UPDATE - SPRING 2003

SOS 2003: SAFEGUARD ORGANIC STANDARDS

Five years ago, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) emerged out of a fiery national grassroots campaign called SOS: Save Organic Standards. The USDA, cheered on by Monsanto and agribusiness interests, tried and failed to degrade organic standards by proposing federal regulations that would have allowed genetic engineering, irradiation, the use of toxic sewage sludge, intensive confinement of farm animals, animal cannibalism, pesticides, and other conventional agribusiness practices under the organic label.

USDA bureaucrats and members of Congress were bombarded with over 300,000 irate letters, reinforced by thousands of phone calls, petitions, emails, and faxes. The USDA was forced to back off and implement national standards in 2002 that maintained the integrity of traditional organic farming and production practices. Although the USDA Organic label fails to completely embody the organic ideal, current standards and labels do help consumers identify and purchase products which are qualitatively safer and better than conventional "industrial" products (see Is USDA Organic Grade B Organic? -Organic View, Spring 02: www.organicconsumers.org/organic/gradeB092902.cfm).

Unfortunately, the Bush administration USDA, prompted by special interests, seems to have decided that strict organic standards are an impediment to maximizing corporate profits. So we are threatened again with a number of policies that could undermine the integrity of the organic label.

In the last 12 months, the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) has:

  • GIVEN certification licenses to over 70 new organic certifiers, some of whom appear to be nothing more than front groups for industrial agriculture and factory farms. Asked for information on whom exactly the USDA is accrediting as certifiers, the NOP has stonewalled, forcing legal action by OCA's ally, the Center for Food Safety. www.organicconsumers.org/Organic/USDAlegal101602.cfm
  • OVERRIDDEN the decision of a long-standing and respected organic certifier in Massachusetts, and certified a poultry farm as organic, even though the animals have no access to the outdoors, as stipulated under national organic standards. www.organicconsumers.org/ organic/030403_organic.cfm
  • STOOD BY while a Republican Congressman from Georgia, Nathan Deal, inserted a rider into the national Omnibus Appropriations bill that would allow animal products to be labeled as "USDA Organic," even if the animals were not fed 100% organic feed as stipulated by US national standards. www.organicconsumers.org/ organic/030403_organic.cfm
  • PROPOSED that EPA allow "List 3" toxic chemical substances, so-called "inerts," in organic production and biopesticides, bypassing the traditional strict screening by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) on allowed synthetic ingredients in organic agriculture.
  • BACKED OFF on a May 2002 statement that strict NOP standards for organic food would also apply to anything labeled "organic" (including body care products) thereby creating the preconditions for consumer fraud and misuse of the term "organic".

Fortunately, the organic community is fighting back to preserve organic standards. The Center for Food Safety has filed a legal petition challenging the accreditation of "unknown" certifiers by the USDA without organic community peer-group review, as required by law. And after Republican Nathan Deal's sneak attack on the 100% organic animal feed rule, Congress received thousands of letters and phone calls, generated by the OCA and the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture. Scores of articles and editorials appeared in the press, including the New York Times, calling for a repeal of the exemption. General Mills and Tyson Foods also attacked the measure, no doubt sensing a threat to the profitability of their organic products. After weeks of controversy, even the head of the USDA, Ann Veneman, denounced the measure. Finally, Rep. Deal himself backed down. As this newsletter goes to press, the Organic Restoration Act, after being passed by both the House and the Senate, has been sent to the White House for signing.

Thanks to everyone who called, faxed and emailed their senators and representatives over the last two months. The overwhelming bi-partisan support this issue received is evidence that our voices were heard in Washington. The fight to preserve Organic Standards is not over, however. On April 12, another sneak attack on Organics was launched by Alaska's two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski and Ted Stevens, which would require the USDA to devise a plan to certify wild-caught fish and shellfish as organic.

Other areas where the national standards are threatened include fraudulent labeling practices for "organic" body care products (see the "Coming Clean" article in this issue) and the USDA's proposal to allow "List 3" toxic inerts in organic farming. As the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) Secretary, Jim Riddle, warned the USDA, "When consumers learn that phenols, benzene, naphthalene, ureas, chromium complexes, piperonyl butoxide, glutamic acid, acetone, chlorotoluene, and other such substances could be allowed in organic agriculture, there will be a predictable and understandable consumer backlash which could seriously damage the entire organic community."

If you are interested in keeping updated on these and future efforts to preserve organic standards, check the daily news on our website: www.organicconsumers.org Consider signing up online in our volunteer database and make sure you check "Legislation" as being one of your interests at: www.organicconsumers.org/campaign.cfm

COMING CLEAN: ORGANIC BODY CARE CAMPAIGN

Organic Consumers Association's new campaign, Coming Clean, is working to have organic body care products covered under the same rigorous labeling and production standards that are now in place for organic foods.

Scientists and medical practitioners warn of the impact of substances absorbed through the skin-whether it's soap, shampoo, cosmetics, suntan oil, or lotions for babies and children. This process of direct absorption through the skin and capillaries into the body is particularly important, because it completely bypasses the kidneys and liver, which normally filter out toxins. The ability of skin to serve as a direct and unfiltered "gateway" into the bloodstream is exactly why nicotine patches and other medicinal surfactants are so effective.

Consumers who are already seeking out organic food also want organic body care products. Body care companies, capitalizing on this consumer concern, have started labeling some of their products "organic," too, but it is not always clear what that means.

Many of the leading brand name products in the body care and cosmetics marketplace currently labeled "organic" are composed mostly  of "organic" perfumed water, often containing as little as 5% organic ingredients other than these waters. In addition, a number of these products contain petroleum-based ingredients which can contain trace toxic contaminants.

Compounding the problem, various companies and interests in the "natural" products industry are pressuring a task force of the Organic Trade Association (OTA) to formulate proposed federal organic standards for body care products that could seriously undermine the integrity of the organic label. These compromised standards, if enacted, would allow companies to simply add "organic" perfumed water to the same synthetic cleansers, conditioners, and preservatives found in mainstream products. If the "organic water" is 70% of the content, the product could then legally be labeled "70% organic."

In response to this outrage, OCA launched its Coming Clean campaign at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, CA in March, 2003.

The OCA believes that the only real solutions to this problem involve public education, marketplace pressure, and network building-as well as possible litigation and legislative action. Either we must convince the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and the US Department of Agriculture National Organic Program (NOP) to resist pressure from "natural" companies attempting to water down organic standards, or the organic community will have to develop and popularize an appropriate third-party certified "Eco-Label" which meets the traditional standards of organic integrity.

We must begin to educate ourselves to identify and avoid problematic and potentially hazardous products and ingredients already sold in the marketplace. We should also make certain that Fair Trade practices, validated either by third-party organic or Fair Trade certifiers, permeate the entire chain of production and marketing of body care products labeled as organic. For further information on OCA's Coming Clean campaign, visit organicconsumers.org/bodycare/index.htm. If you would like to get involved in the Coming Clean campaign please contact the OCA national office.

DON'T WATER DOWN ORGANIC STANDARDS FOR BODY CARE!

THE PROBLEM

A number of body care product companies are counting non-agricultural water as organic, to greenwash their products and make organic label claims, even though their formulations are largely composed of the synthetic cleansers, conditioners and preservatives found in mainstream products. This fraud is destroying the integrity of the organic label.

FLORAL WATER

Floral waters (or hydrosols) are the water by-product of essential oil steam distillation and are basically a complicated way of making tea. Companies making body care products based on synthetic surfactants (detergents or wetting agents) front-load their ingredient list with floral waters and water extracts/infusions. The names of the synthetic surfactants that actually make up the product are buried further down the list. These waters are claimed to be key functional organic components but are, in the context of the whole product, inconsequential.

CORE INGREDIENTS

The core ingredients in these products often include one or more of the following:

  • Olefin Sulfonate is a surfactant, derived entirely from petroleum, and has no place in an organic product.
  • Cocoamidopropyl Betaine uses a petroleum intermediate in building the surfactant.
  • Ethoxylated surfactants like Sodium Myreth Sulfate use petroleum-derived ethylene oxide to ethoxylate alcohol sulfates which can produce 1,4 dioxin, a toxic material, in trace quantities.
  • Paraben preservatives are also petroleum-derived.
THE SOLUTION

Organic Consumers Association believes that body care ingredients and products should only be labeled organic if:

  • Certified organic agricultural feed-stocks (raw materials) are used exclusively, rather than petroleum or conventional vegetable feed-stocks, in the manufacture of key ingredients.
  • The manufacture of these ingredients is reasonably simple and ecological.
  • The toxicity of each ingredient is minimal.
  • Non-agricultural water is not counted as contributing to organic content. (Agricultural water is the naturally occurring water in a plant.)
70% ORGANIC?

Even though organic floral water/hydrosol is over 99% non-agricultural water, this water is counted as "organic". This practice drastically inflates the weight of organic ingredients, to make the claim "70% Certified Organic Ingredients." However, organic regulations stipulate that only the non-water weight of a product is counted when determining organic content. A soup company cannot replace regular water in a conventional vegetable soup product with "organic rosemary water" and then claim the soup is "70% Organic" without organically sourcing any of the vegetable ingredients.

Find out more at www.organicconsumers.org/bodycare

A MESSAGE FROM THE DIRECTOR

The warmest of spring greetings from the Organic Consumers Association. Now 500,000 strong, OCA's national network is growing by leaps and bounds. As we go to press, it's hard to focus on anything other than the war in Iraq and its predictably disastrous aftermath. The only bright side to this dark period in human history is that more and more people seem to be waking up and realizing that we can't go on living this way. In this time of crisis, we at the OCA pledge that we will redouble our efforts to build a better world, through public education, marketplace pressure, and political action.

The good news is that more and more people across the US-and the world-are turning to healthier and more ecologically and ethically responsible lifestyles. Organic and sustainable agriculture practices are sweeping the globe. At current rates of growth, most food sold at the grocery store level in the US, Canada, and Europe will be organic by 2020. Organic clothing, body care, and other products are also gaining momentum. Ecological medicine and holistic healing practices are being embraced by millions of people. As global awareness spreads, companies promoting Frankenfoods and crops, like Monsanto, or junk food, like McDonald's, are losing ground. Companies trying to greenwash their exploitation of farm workers or garment workers, like Starbucks or Nike, are coming under increasing scrutiny. Hazardous technologies like industrial agriculture, genetic engineering, and nuclear energy are being questioned as never before, along with climate-disrupting energy and transportation policies. And of course, war, so-called free trade, and out-of-control corporate globalization, are under increasing fire.

The bad news is that the road to an organic, peaceful, and sustainable future is filled with formidable roadblocks, both political and economic, which extend all the way from Main Street and our local city councils to the White House, the global marketplace and the World Trade Organization. Many people have become discouraged, not even bothering to vote, either with their consumer dollars or their ballots. One of our primary tasks therefore, is not just to criticize what's obviously wrong with the status quo, but to sow the seeds of hope-to identify and support the marketplace and political alternatives which already exist, or which we can help to create with our friends, families, and neighbors.

In this issue of Organic View we report on some of the bad news, like the current attempts to degrade organic standards, but also the good news, including OCA's current campaigns and projects. To find out more, you can read our online newsletters, BioDemocracy News and Organic Bytes, or tune into our comprehensive website www.organicconsumers.org which is updated daily. But beyond just reading about OCA's current work, and voting for an organic future with your consumer dollars, please vote with your time and your pocket book today for the OCA. We need your volunteer energy and your financial contributions-now more than ever. Please support us! -Ronnie Cummins

JOIN AN OCA DELEGATION TO THE SEPTEMBER WTO PROTESTS IN MEXICO

Join Ronnie Cummins and other OCA staff on an escorted delegation to the historic teach-ins and protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Cancun, Mexico, September 7-14, 2003. Over 150,000 concerned citizens from North and South America, Europe, and Asia are expected to converge on Cancun, including leading farm, food, Fair Trade, and anti-GE activists, to attend a wide range of workshops, forums, and cultural events. Following up on the theme of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, "Another World is Possible," the emphasis in Cancun will be on presenting alternatives to corporate globalization and bringing together grassroots activists from around the world.

Organizers emphasize that public events will be strictly non-violent, and that any civil disobedience protests will be organized separately from the teach-ins and educational workshops. Trade analysts predict that the outcome of the WTO Ministerial in Cancun will largely determine the success of such US government-backed corporate globalization schemes as genetic engineering, water privatization, investment and social services privatization, and patenting of drugs and life forms. In the wake of the unpopular war in Iraq, the Bush administration will likely find itself increasingly isolated. As Simon Harris of the OCA puts it, "Cancun may very well mark the beginning of the end of the WTO."

In 1999, the OCA helped organize the historic protests and teach-ins against the WTO in Seattle. The "Battle of Seattle," as it came to be known, represented the coming of age of the global grassroots in its attempt to stop the headlong rush of corporate globalization and unsustainable technologies such as genetic engineering.

The OCA delegation, limited to 100 people, will include experts on genetic engineering and organic agriculture such as Ronnie Cummins, OCA National Director; Dr. Michael Hansen, from the Consumers Union; Laura Miller and John Stauber, publishers of PR Watch, a leading source of information on corporate power and propaganda; and Ryan Zinn, OCA's Chiapas-based biodiversity specialist. These experts, and others, including Mexican activist leaders, will provide in-depth presentations and workshops for delegation participants.

During the week of teach-ins and protests, September 7-14, the OCA delegation will be housed in comfortable oceanfront accommodations on the scenic Caribbean island of Isla Mujeres, a twenty minute ferry ride from the city of Cancun. Costs for a shared double room, meals, seminars, and transport to and from the teach-ins and activities will be $850 (airfare not included). Private rooms are available for an additional $200. To reserve your space on the delegation, send a $400 deposit to the Organic Consumers Association, 6101 Cliff Estate Road, Little Marais, MN 55614 or call the OCA office at 218-226-4164. E-mail: mexicotrip@organicconsumers.org

OCA'S NEW WATER PROJECT

In response to a request from the United Nations, Craig Minowa of the Organic Consumers Association delivered a research report on water privatization and diversion to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on March 26, 2003. OCA and its allies are gearing up for a massive international public information and policy campaign to resist the corporate take-over of global water resources.

Water industry profits now amount to nearly half of those found in the oil sector. These profits come at the expense of over a billion people who lack access to safe drinking water. The UN estimates that as much as two-thirds of the world's population will face water shortages within the next 25 years. If water is privatized, this scarcity and demand translates into explosive profit potential for private industry.

Although proponents of privatization claim it's the best method for insuring a well-maintained water treatment infrastructure, many of the corporations selling fresh water for profit are the same industries that contaminated the water in the first place. For example, Monsanto has made immense profits by introducing DDT, Agent Orange and its portfolio of other pesticides to the world's food and fresh water supply, and is now doubling those profits by offering to clean its pollutants out of the water and sell it back to the people in bottled form.

The horror stories of water privatization are becoming all too common. The California based Bechtel Corporation took ownership of Bolivia's water, drastically raised prices, and made it illegal to catch rain water without a permit. In Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, more than 100,000 people became ill from cholera after their water was shut off for non-payment.

The OCA will be working to educate and mobilize consumers on these issues and will be working closely with the United Nations in the coming year in an effort to create international policy that guarantees that water remains a common good and not a private commodity.

OCA CAMPAIGNS

Starbucks & Fair Trade

The OCA stepped up its public education and marketplace pressure campaign against Starbucks over the past six months, demanding that the company remove GE ingredients such as rBGH from their beverages and foods, and move beyond token measures to offer and seriously promote organic and Fair Trade coffee and chocolate.

In November 2002, the OCA helped build support for a ballot measure in Berkeley, CA that would have required Starbucks and other public coffeehouses to serve Fair Trade or organic coffee. Although the measure lost, the OCA gained valuable experience that will help us pass similar ballot measures in other cities.

On March 25, 2003, the OCA held a protest and press conference at Starbucks' annual shareholders meeting in Seattle. While shareholders inside the meeting offered up a resolution to label or remove GMOs (genetically modified organisms) from Starbucks products, OCA activists outside picketed and leafleted shareholders. After two years of intense campaigning Starbucks has only moved half-way towards meeting OCA's demands. Because of this, OCA's Frankenbucks campaign will continue. For an in-depth look at the campaign, and Fair Trade issues in general, see the Starbucks section of the OCA website: www.organicconsumers.org/starbucks/

Clothes for a Change

Due to the war, the OCA has delayed the formal launch of its Clothes for a Change campaign until fall 2003. The campaign will pressure leading clothing companies such as Gap, Levi's, Ralph Lauren, and Nike to remove all GE cotton from their brand name clothing; to start blending organic and transition-to-organic cotton and fibers into their clothing; and to guarantee through independent third party certification that they are not using sweatshop labor. The campaign will also promote socially and environmentally responsible products already on the market, and pass legislation at the city and state levels mandating that government garment contracts ban sweatshop labor and give preference to companies utilizing sustainable and organic fabrics. To get involved, email chris@organicconsumers.org

FREE ELECTRONIC NEWSLETTERS

OCA publishes two free electronic newsletters, BioDemocracy News, and a new bi-weekly, Organic Bytes.

BioDemocracy News contains comprehensive news and analysis on Organics, Genetic Engineering, Fair Trade, globalization and factory farming. organicconsumers.org/listserv.htm 

Organic Bytes is a shorter newsletter containing summaries of some of the most interesting and important recent news stories from our website, along with fun facts, quotations, and amusing graphics. For a free subscription, visit organicconsumers.org/organicbytes.htm. Current & past issues are available there for your use, copyright free!

OCA STAFF

Ronnie Cummins, National Director

Rose Welch, Campaign Manager

Simon Harris, Campaign Director

Loranda McLeete, Office Manager

Kate Smith, Database Manager

Amy Gardner, Membership Services

Ryan Zinn, Mexico Office

Jody Treter, Development

Charlene Birdseye, Data Entry

Mary Anselment, Database

Casey Oppenheim, Consultant

Liz Welch, SOS, Illustration

Nick Lethert, Graphic Design

Mary Wildfire, Intern

Brittany Gill, Intern

FIELD ORGANIZERS:

Simon Harris, West Coast

Ange Hill, Northwest

Judy Linman, Mountain States

Connie Minowa, Northeast

Chris Treter, Midwest & Texas

Tom Taylor, Southeast & Midwest

OCA WEBSITE:

Steve Urow, Web Master

Craig Minowa, Campaign Sections

Michael Greger, MD, Mad Cow Section

Danila Oder, Irradiation Section

ORGANIC CONSUMERS ASSOCIATION

National Director:

RONNIE CUMMINS

Policy Advisory Board:

MAUDE BARLOW -Council of Canadians

JAY FELDMAN -National Coalition Against the Misuseof Pesticides

JEAN HALLORAN -Consumers Union

TIM HERMACH -Native Forest Council

ELLEN HICKEY -Pesticide Action Network

JULIA BUTTERFLY HILL -Forest Activist & Author

ANNIE HOY -Ashland Community Food Store, OR

MIKA IBA -Network for Safe & Secure Food & Environment, Japan

PAT KERRIGAN  -Emergency Food Shelf, MN

JOHN KINSMAN -Family Farm Defenders

AL KREBS -Agribusiness Examiner

BRUCE KRUGNY -Dairy Farmer

HOWARD LYMAN -Voice for a Viable Future

CHARLES MARGULIS -Greenpeace USA

VICTOR MENOTTI -International Forum on Globalization

FRANCES MOORE-LAPPE -Author

ROBIN SEYDELL -Montanita Co-op, NM

VANDANA SHIVA -Research Foundation for Science, Technology & Natural Resource Policy, India

JOHN STAUBER -Center for Media and Democracy


ORGANIC VIEW    Spring 2003

A publication of Organic Consumers Association
6101 Cliff Estate Road
Little Marais, MN 55614
www.organicconsumers.org
218 - 226 - 4164
218 - 353 - 7652 fax