A publication of the Organic Consumers Association
Membership Update - Autumn 2004
BIODEMOCRACY vs. BIOTECHNOLOGY
Since the last issue of Organic View, the global controversy over genetically engineered (GE) foods and crops has intensified. Despite warnings from scientists and the OCA, GE contamination is spreading. In September, activists in Hawaii tested 20,000 papaya seeds and found genetic contamination in most of the samples, including seeds from organic farms. Angry farmers and gardeners dumped 20 trash bins of contaminated papayas at the University of Hawaii-Hilo in protest. Despite public opposition and rejection by overseas markets, virus-spliced GE papayas have been planted on papaya plantations across Hawaii. Consumers and farmers from across the islands are calling for the creation of a GE-Free zone.
A few weeks later, scientists in Oregon found that pollen from Monsanto’s GE herbicide-tolerant bentgrass had cross-pollinated with natural bentgrass 13 miles away. Monsanto has developed the Roundup Ready bentgrass for golf courses, and eventually private lawns. Across the US, Canada, and Mexico, organic, indigenous, and non-GE farmers report increasing contamination of their crops by GE corn, canola, cotton, and soybean varieties. In China, authorities admitted that they had haphazardly planted over a million genetically engineered trees in the open environment, with no way to monitor their impact on birds, animals, related tree species, and humans (possible allergenic pollen drift).
Scientists recently condemned the Bush administration for failing to release a study that showed that US dumping of millions of tons of GE corn every year in Mexico is causing widespread contamination of the nation’s irreplaceable traditional maize varieties. In response to widespread genetic contamination, a thousand organic farmers in Canada are suing Monsanto and Aventis (Bayer), while local activists in several dozen counties and states across the US are gearing up for legislative efforts to ban GE crops.
A number of prominent scientists are pointing out that the unpredictable and hazardous practice of gene-splicing and patenting crops is scientifically outmoded. The “cutting edge” of plant biotechnology is to use gene mapping to identify and stain or mark desirable gene sequences in plants, which can then be produced through conventional cross-breeding practices. In effect the entire 170 million acres of GMOs planted worldwide could be replaced with non-gene spliced varieties that are safe, predictable, and non-polluting. Monsanto and the other gene giants, however, are not interested in “Marker-Assisted Breeding,” since it is natural, and therefore non-patentable.
In July, the OCA and activists from the California GMO Free Mendocino group joined together to form the BioDemocracy Alliance to defend and spread GE-Free zones across California. Meanwhile Monsanto, Bayer, and the Farm Bureau are developing plans to take away counties’ right to ban GE crops—either through court action or passing a California preemption law. OCA believes the only way to stop the Biotech bullies is to begin to pass European-type state laws requiring mandatory labeling of GE-tainted foods and strict “polluter pays” liability laws on GE pollution.
Following Mendocino’s ban in March, the Board of Supervisors for Trinity County, California voted to enact a similar ban in August, becoming the second county in the US to do so. Trinity County’s ban was supported by a broad alliance of consumers, organic farmers, businesses, and government employees. The OCA helped local activists lobby the Board of Supervisors and mobilize grassroots support. Over 75 townships in Vermont have also passed anti-GE ordinances.
November 2 marks a turning point, not only for Presidential and Congressional races, but also for the anti-GE, pro-organic movement as well. By the time you receive this issue of Organic View, four more California counties will have gone to the polls to decide the future of GE crops in their communities—Butte, Humboldt, San Luis Obispo and Marin. In addition, elected officials in Arcata and San Francisco are contemplating bans. Several other California counties, including Sonoma, are launching GE-Free ballot initiatives for 2005-06. OCA recently donated $45,000 to local groups working for GE crop bans in California.
Hemp Ban in US Reversed
The US federal government recently reversed a law banning hemp ingredients in natural and organic food products after a three year legal battle with the Hemp Industries Association and public interest plaintiffs, including the OCA. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is finally acknowledging that hemp foods do not contain traceable levels of THC (tetrahyrdocannabinol), the psychotropic chemical in marijuana. In other words, eating hemp foods does not get a person “high”, nor does it interfere with workplace drug tests. In fact, the THC levels in hemp foods are below that of opiates found in poppy seed muffins and breads.
Hemp seed is most commonly used as a nutritional supplement in a variety of foods. It offers an ideal balance of two essential fatty acids (omega-3/omega-6). The hemp food industry is expecting a major boost in sales as a result of the removal of the DEA’s ban. Despite this ruling and the booming hemp industry as a whole (including hemp fabrics, bio-diesel fuel, paper, and foods), US farmers are still not allowed to grow industrial hemp. As a result, this growing market is being supplied by imports from hemp farmers in Canada and overseas.
A Message From the Director
Autumn greetings and thank you for your crucial support of the Organic Consumers Association. By the time you receive this issue of Organic View, the long-awaited November elections will likely have come and gone. Despite serious policy differences between Bush and Kerry, and many of the other candidates on the ballot, the overwhelming majority of this year’s crop of elected public officials is still ignoring the profound health, food, farming, and environmental crisis that grips the nation.
Listening to the debates, watching TV, or reading the campaign mail that has filled our mailboxes, we find little or no discussion about America’s epidemic of allergies, chemical sensitivities, cancer, obesity, and heart disease. We look in vain for an explanation of how our deteriorating public health is directly related to environmental pollution and the chemical-laced and genetically engineered junk/industrial food most Americans are still eating and feeding to their children. Nor has there been much said, beyond shallow rhetoric, regarding saving family farms, regulating out of control technologies such as pesticides and genetic engineering, or eliminating global poverty and hunger—the fundamental cause of war and conflict. Regarding health care, few politicians, outside of Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich, have stated the obvious—we need universal health care with a preventive, holistic focus.
Fortunately millions of us are way ahead of the politicians and “business as usual” corporations. A near-critical mass has started voting with our pocketbooks and volunteer energy for a healthy and sustainable future. Thirty million Americans are now buying organic food on a regular basis. Fifty million people are patronizing holistic medical practitioners and products. One hundred and seventy-five million other “Mainstreamers” say they intend to change their diet and lifestyle habits over the next five years. Eighty thousand of the nation’s farmers and ranchers have begun farming organically or making the transition to organic. A million enthusiastic organic gardeners, including young people, are learning how to grow their own food and herbs.
OCA believes that America’s growing volunteer army of organic minded consumers must step forward and provide some of the moral and political leadership our country needs—before it’s too late. Even the most “bottom line” politicians and corporations will listen to the grassroots, rather than powerful special interests, if we get organized and force them to listen. To do this means we’re going to have to “Vote Organic,” today and every day, both with our pocketbooks and our political voices. In this issue of Organic View, we lay out some of our recent accomplishments and future plans.
Because many donors and foundations have been putting most of their money into this year’s elections, we find ourselves seriously strapped for cash. We really, really need your financial support right now. If you haven’t already, please click here to send us a tax-deductible donation. Thank you so much for walking your talk.
For a Healthy & Organic Future,
Announcing a New National Organization:
The Organic Farmers & Gardeners Union
In October, the OCA helped organic farmers and gardeners in its national network form a new non-profit public interest organization called the Organic Farmers & Gardeners Union (OFGU). The Union is being formed to protect and expand organic agriculture, bring together Fair Trade and organic practices, both domestically and internationally, and change US farm and food policies. OFGU farmers and gardeners believe the USDA should replace billions of dollars in US taxpayer subsidies for chemical-intensive and GE agriculture with green subsidies. This shift would reduce the toxicity of conventional farming and help farmers and ranchers make the transition to organic practices while, at the same time, developing local and regional markets. OFGU aspires to work in the interests of North America’s organic farmers (both USDA certified and non-certified), organic gardeners, and farm workers, as well as farmers and gardeners “in transition” to organic. OFGU believes that organic farming needs to move as quickly as possible from being a multi-billion niche market to becoming the dominant form of agriculture. OFGU wants USDA federal food stamp, WIC (Women with Infants and Children), and school lunch programs to be adequately funded and restructured so as to expand organics to schools, hospitals, and low-income communities. Learn more at the OFGU website.
OFGU’s office and mailing address is:
OFGU · 6771 South Silver Hill Drive · Finland, MN 55603.
Donations and volunteers are needed. email OFGU
To make a donation call: 888-403-1007.
OCA Coupon Collection
OCA’s Coupon Collection helps raise money for our nationwide network
building efforts and campaign to spread GE-Free Zones throughout the Americas.
The book calls attention to some of the best organic and Fair Trade companies
in North America. Please consider supporting the OCA’s crucial work
by ordering one or more of these Organic Coupon Collection books and sample
the products of some of America’s best Organic and Fair Trade companies.
here to see Coupon Books.
OCA and the Native American Food Movement
“If you borrow a car or truck from your friend, you take care of it, you clean it, and you put gas in it before you return it. When we pass on the earth to our children, we need to do the same thing.” -Richard Deertrack (Native Food Summit, 2004.)
Organic food and farming is not a new idea. Native Nations across the Americas were the first “organic” farmers, with traditional farming methods and seeds preserved over thousands of years. OCA recently attended the Native Food Summit held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and shared resources on genetic engineering, organics, and policy reform, while learning more about this exciting new food movement. Many Native communities across the Americas are successfully re-establishing community gardens that use ancient seed varieties and traditional methods of growing. American Indian leaders and community members are reviving culturally traditional foods and diets that restore health, strengthen cultural identity, and build economic independence.
According to the National Indian Health Service, six out of every ten American Indians are likely to develop diabetes, compared with the rate of two in ten non-Indians. The US commodity system has provided and continues to provide white flour, white sugar, cheese, powdered milk, canned food to Native communities, creating a diet of death for Native people. Years of commodity foods, many created from farm subsidies that support industrial agriculture, changed an ancient diet too quickly, within one generation, causing massive health problems and cultural violence. Additionally, the US government forcibly moved many Tribal communities from their traditional lands and familiar ecosystems to deserts, forests, or infertile lands where traditional farming practices became a memory.
During the recent Native Food Summit, leaders discussed the need to protect the land, the water, and the seeds. National Native activist Winona LaDuke warned the crowd about genetic engineering and the contamination of traditional crops through cross-pollination. She declared, “Corn loves to have sex! Even five miles away!” Richard Deertrack, President of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center and Founder of the Blue Corn Trading company, described the earth as becoming “chemically dependent” from the widespread use of chemical pesticides and herbicides. He stated, “We should be able to lick our fingers with anything we put on the ground.”
The Summit celebrated traditional Native foods, and the benefits of a Native diet, while participants ate buffalo, blue corn, nuts, oysters, fish, wild rice, beans, berries, squash, pumpkin, turkey, and quinoa, provided by the many Nations gathered. Native community leaders signed OCA’s petitions against genetic engineering and harmful industrial agriculture practices, and discussed ways to help protect the vast genetic diversity of Native seeds, traditional foods, healing plants, and wildlife that still exist on Tribal lands across America.
While American Indian leaders have led the fight for the environment since its beginnings, many people working on new agricultural projects on Reservations across the US are just realizing the threats of genetic engineering and industrial agriculture. OCA is talking with Native farmers, Native leaders, and key funders, to identify ways to provide assistance to Native food projects. OCA can help Native farmers who want to become certified as organic, develop American Indian culturally specific educational materials, increase access to organic foods on Reservations with buying clubs and distributor partnerships, and lobby for changes in policies such as US farm and food policies.
OCA Campaign News
Creating a Healthier School Environment
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, nearly half of America’s 53 million students are attending schools where they are exposed to hazardous levels of toxic chemicals, including pesticides, lead, and asbestos—not to mention the worst school cafeteria food in any industrialized nation.
The OCA’s Appetite for a Change Campaign (formerly known as Safeguard our Students) has been working to create a safer and healthier environment for our children to learn and grow, by integrating organic foods and non-toxic products into our schools. Thanks to your help, the Senate recently passed the Child Nutrition Act, which will keep irradiated foods out of school cafeterias.
Now the Senate has introduced a bill that would ban soda pop and junk food vending machines in schools receiving federal funding. The bill, known as the Childhood Obesity Prevention Act, would also prohibit the advertising of junk food in schools and provide more foods low in fat, calories and added sugars (e.g. fruits, vegetables and whole grains).
Learn more by requesting OCA Appetite for a Change Campaign materials or visiting our campaign website.
Please also contact your US Senators to support the Prevention of Childhood Obesity Act (S. 2894). The congressional switchboard phone is 202-225-3121.
SOS: Safeguarding Organic Standards
The OCA has recently teamed up with a network of environmental, consumer and trade organizations to advise the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in strengthening organic standards.
Some examples of loopholes that currently exist in the National Organic Program (NOP):
- USDA Organic Standards allow “organic” meat and dairy products to be produced under factory style farm conditions.
- Despite organic labeling claims, non-food products like cosmetics, pet food, and fertilizers are not being regulated by the USDA.
- The NOP says it’s okay to label dairy products from a cow as “USDA Certified Organic,” even if the animal has been treated with synthetic hormones and drugs for most of its life.
All of these loopholes in the standards are being taken advantage of by unscrupulous businesses. Given weak federal oversight of the organic industry, the OCA has taken on the role of monitoring the organic marketplace. In our bimonthly email newsletter (Organic Bytes) and daily website news postings, the OCA is continually informing consumers of both “good” and “bad” practices and products on the organic market.
OCA is also formulating White Papers for the NOSB on organic standards to protect animal welfare, end fraudulent product labeling, and keep synthetic drugs and pesticides out of organic products.
Mad Cow USA: Stop the Madness
Last January, after the first case of Mad Cow Disease was discovered in the US, the federal government announced new regulations that would forbid the feeding of blood, slaughterhouse wastes, and manure to cows. Unfortunately, most of these regulations have not been implemented. Enforcement of the proposed regulations was delayed indefinitely after intense lobbying by the beef industry. In addition, the USDA has forbidden US slaughterhouses from carrying out universal, mandatory testing of cattle, as demanded by Japan and other overseas customers. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association rewarded the White House for these moves by endorsing G.W. Bush for re-election.
With Mad Cow Disease regulations effectively neutered, the health of the American consumer is being jeopardized. The OCA continues to serve as a leading informational source on this issue for consumers, media and lawmakers. OCA has also generated thousands of emails, letters, and petitions to pressure the US Government to adopt and enforce the same strict standards required by the European Union and Japan.
Consumers, increasingly wary of the horrors of industrial meat, bought millions of dollars worth of organic beef last year, as well as several hundred million dollars of transition-to-organic or grass-fed beef. Sales of organic and grass-fed beef are expected to skyrocket into the billions as America’s meat safety and Mad Cow crisis intensifies. For a list of where you can buy organic or grass-fed beef and meat, see the Find Organics section of the OCA website.
Body Care Standards
The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) is continuing to take the stance that it will not monitor or police organic body care products. In other words, the avalanche of “organic” body care products that US consumers are purchasing from food co-ops and natural product stores are wholly unregulated, in terms of organic labeling. Consumers have no idea if the organic claim on a body care product is real or not.
OCA is assisting with a new collaborative process. Objective and science-based standards for organic body care products will be developed by a broad task force composed of the OCA, natural and organic body care companies, scientists, and other consumer representatives. These standards will then be published by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) for organic certifiers to use in assessing the legitimacy of organic label claims on body care products. A similar NSF standardization process has been successfully implemented in the past few years on products ranging from bottled water to vitamin supplements.
Organic Body Care Tips
- Avoid multiple ingredient products whose main organic ingredient (typically the first listed) is hydrosol, hydroflorate, floral water, or lavender juice. These are all different names for the same type of ingredient. It’s currently the most common method of making a product falsely appear to be 70% organic or more. The OCA has spearheaded analytical studies at Rutger’s Institute which have shown this ingredient to be mostly ordinary added water. Water can’t be labeled “organic”, so don’t pay extra for it.
- Avoid products containing any form of a paraben (methyl, propyl, butyl and ethyl). This is a very commonly used synthetic preservative that has been shown to alter hormone levels, possibly increasing risks for certain types of cancer, impaired fertility, or alteration of the development of a fetus or young child.
- Learn about ingredients and product labeling from the OCA’s leaflets and website. Get in the habit of reading labels on body care products just as you do on food products.
- Try makeup brands that are based on beeswax, plant oils, or vitamin E instead of the petroleum derivatives that are typically used. The average woman who wears make-up will eat two pounds of lipstick in her lifetime.
- Learn to use lemon, vinegar, and other natural ingredients. Effective body care does not have to involve products formulated in laboratories. Lemon juice, for example, has been used as a beauty aid for eons to make hair shine and soften rough skin.
Clothes for a Change
OCA’s Clothes for a Change Campaign has been urging consumers to boycott clothing produced in sweatshops and buy organic, sweatshop-free clothing instead. OCA believes consumers will “Care What They Wear” when they realize that most overseas clothing plants are sweatshops and learn about the health and environmental benefits of organically grown, non-GE, cotton. To increase US organic cotton production and to reduce the damage of conventional pesticide-intensive and GE cotton, the OCA is calling for a replacement of billions of dollars in conventional cotton subsidies in the US with “green” or transition to organic subsidies. 78% of US taxpayer subsidies for cotton go to only 10% of cotton farmers, the nation’s 2500 largest cotton farms. These taxpayer subsidies promote overproduction and lead to dumping of cotton at artificially low prices on the world market, driving millions of cotton farmers and their families in Africa, Asia, and Latin America into desperate poverty. Over 20,000 cotton farmers in India have committed suicide since 1995, due in part to the financial crisis caused by US overproduction and dumping of GE/pesticide-intensive cotton.
Organic cotton farmers in the US and overseas typically get no taxpayer subsidies, yet are proving they can create a healthier product without pesticides or GE seeds—and sales are expanding rapidly. Six million pounds of organic cotton were sold in the US in 2001. That number jumped to twenty million pounds last year. American Apparel, the largest T-shirt manufacturer in America, says their Made in the US organic cotton product sales are doubling every two months.
What’s Up With Fair Trade?
OCA’s Starbucks/Fair Trade Campaign is part of an ever stronger global movement. Thanks to consumer pressure on the world’s largest coffee companies, sales of organic and Fair Trade coffee (coffee that is purchased at a price that offers growers a fair living wage), are rapidly expanding. Fair Trade coffee sales have tripled in the last three years, with products now available in 18,000 grocery stores and coffee shops in the US. Nonetheless, more consumers need to learn why it’s important to seek out organic and Fair Trade coffee. Most of the world’s 25 million coffee farmers and their families are still living in desperate poverty, while Procter and Gamble, Sara Lee, Nestle, Kraft and Starbucks are making record profits.
The Future of Food is Now!
This fall the OCA has coordinated over 250 house parties and community screenings of the ground-breaking documentary, The Future of Food by Deborah Koons Garcia. The response to the feature-length film, which one critic has dubbed the “Fahrenheit-911 of the Anti-GE Foods Movement”, has been phenomenal, inspiring people in a number of communities to form “Grassroots Action Groups” to carry out public education or pass local GE bans.
If you wish to hold a house party or organize a premier community screening of The Future of Food, please go to OCA's House Party web page or call the OCA office at 218-226-4164. DVD or video copies are available for $25, which the OCA will supply along with a manual for how to organize your house party and form a local GE Action group. The latest DVD version of the film contains supplementary material, including an important 30 minute interview with America’s premier scientific critic of GE foods, Dr. Michael Hansen.
Free Electronic Newsletter
Besides Organic View, OCA publishes a free electronic newsletter, Organic Bytes, which is published bi-weekly. Organic Bytes contains summaries of the most important recent news stories from our website, along with Action Alerts, quotations, photos and graphics.
Click here for a free subscription to Organic Bytes. Current and past issues are available there
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