ORGANIC VIEW

A publication of the Organic Consumers Association
Membership Update - Autumn 2005

SOS: Organic Community and Standards Under Siege

Organic standards, and the multi-billion dollar alternative food and farming system that the organic community has so painstakingly built up over the past 35 years, are under siege as never before.

This fall, OCA has mobilized its nationwide network to deal with: an industry-sponsored sneak attack on organic standards in the US Congress; USDA inaction towards factory farm dairy feedlots calling themselves organic; continued buyouts of organic brands by corporate food giants; and a looming threat to pack the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) with “industrial organic” advocates.

OCA members bombarded Congress with over 250,000 emails and phone calls, trying to preserve the integrity of the “USDA Organic” label. Outraged organic consumers urged public officials to reject the Organic Trade Association’s “Sneak Attack” rider to the 2006 Agriculture Appropriations Bill that would seriously undermine organic standards by removing traditional organic community review and control over what synthetic substances and non-organic ingredients are allowed in organic production, and centralizing power in the hands of the White House-appointed USDA.

The industry sponsored rider was rammed through by Republicans on the House/Senate Appropriations committee on October 27. The rider was sponsored by large food processors and chains that now dominate the Organic Trade Association*. The rider will open the door for hundreds of synthetic substances and non-organic ingredients to be used in organic production, with little or no prior review or monitoring by the organic community’s traditional watchdog, the NOSB.

OCA and other public interest groups have vowed to reverse the rider with legislation, as we did in 2002-3, when a sneak attack rider was added to the Omnibus Appropriations bill allowing big producers to use non-organic feed on organic farms if they determined that organic feed was “too expensive.”

On November 16, in Washington, DC, family farm and organic community representatives again urged the USDA to stop allowing giant factory farm dairy feedlots, some with thousands of cows, to blatantly violate organic standards by marketing their milk as organic, without providing access to pasture for their herds. These factory style feedlots are operated by leading organic dairies such as Dean Foods (Horizon Organic) and Aurora Organic Dairy (producer of private-label store brand organic milk for companies such as Wild Oats).

For four years, officials at the USDA National Organic Program have ignored requests from the NOSB to clarify and strengthen standards on organic dairy farms. These standards assure that animals have access to pasture, fresh air, and water, and that a considerable portion of their diet be pasture grass, as opposed to grains and highly processed feed in confinement feedlots.

OCA and organic advocates want the USDA to put an end to the practice of industrial-sized organic dairies importing young calves from conventional farms where the animals have been weaned on cow blood milk-replacer, injected or medicated with antibiotics, and fed GE grains that are laced with slaughterhouse waste and tainted animal fats. OCA is meeting with other members of the organic community to make a plan to put an end to these outrageous practices. Besides public education, tactics being contemplated are litigation, Congressional action, petitioning the USDA for an official public review and comment period on new regulations, and consumer boycotts of factory farm organic products and brands.

The USDA is under fire for refusing to be open about appointees to the 15 member NOSB, which has at least five vacancies coming up for appointment in January 2006. This lack of transparency has led to widespread concern that the Bush administration is preparing an unfriendly takeover of the NOSB by packing the board with corporate backed, “pro-industrial organic,” advocates. Prior to the Bush administration, the USDA has always published the names of its potential appointees to the NOSB well in advance, giving the organic community ample time to evaluate the qualifications and reputations of these all-important industry watchdogs. Because of this traditional transparency and public review, the NOSB has remained, up until this point, a powerful and respected voice for strict organic standards and a firm supporter of broad community participation in reviewing industry practices.

Despite these attacks on organic integrity, OCA is confident that the grassroots will prevail once again. With your support, we will “Keep Organic Organic”, just as we’ve done before—in 1998, 2002, and 2004—when the USDA and corporate special interests tried to degrade organic standards by attempting to allow genetic engineering, food irradiation, sewage sludge, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and non-organic animal feed to be allowed under the USDA Organic label. The power of millions of organic consumers is formidable, especially as we get organized politically. But to safeguard organics we’ll need your continued vigilance, volunteer energy, and your financial support. At current rates of growth, most grocery store items will be organic by the year 2025. Let’s make certain that the organic label on these products still means real organic.

For more information, please refer to the SOS section of the OCA website

* Large food processors & chains that supported the Sneak Attack on Organic Standards:

  • Dole
  • Kraft/Boca
  • Smucker’s/Knudson’s
  • Campbell Soup Company
  • General Mills/Small Planet
  • Dean/Horizon/Whitewave
  • Aurora Organic
  • Dannon/Stonyfield
  • Whole Foods
  • Wild Oats
  • Grocery Manufacturers Association

A Message from the Director

Autumn greetings from the Organic Consumers Association. As I write this, the OCA network, now 800,000 strong, is involved in a crucial struggle to safeguard national organic standards from an unfriendly takeover by giant food processors and supermarket chains such as Kraft, Dole, Dean Foods, and Wal-Mart (see cover story). This assault on organic standards and traditional organic community control over standards began in mid-September with an industry sponsored sneak attack in the US Congress to attach a controversial rider to the 2006 Agricultural Appropriations bill. This rider, passed on October 27th, will take away major control over the National List of allowable substances that can be used in organic production from the National Organic Standards Board and centralize this power in the hands of White House appointed USDA bureaucrats.

The bad news is that organic standards are under siege. The good news is that the OCA has been able to mobilize our nationwide network as never before, bombarding the US Congress with over 250,000 emails, letters, and telephone calls. This unprecedented grassroots outpouring has put the Congress and Corporate America on notice that we will not tolerate the destruction of the organic marketplace.

While defending organic integrity, OCA is moving forward to qualitatively expand the consciousness and marketplace clout of America’s 50+ million green-minded, organic, and socially responsible consumers. Over the summer, OCA staff and volunteers spoke with thousands of Americans who share our belief that it’s time to stop the “Wal-Martization” of the economy, to Break the Chains of mindless and self-destructive consumerism, and begin to Buy Local, Organic, and Fair Trade/Fair Made on a mass scale. On November 13-19, OCA is formally launching its Breaking the Chains campaign with boycotts, picket lines (in front of chain stores such as Wal-Mart), press conferences, house parties, and community forums across the country, pointing out the negative impacts of the chains, and highlighting positive local alternatives to these chains. Our belief is that a broad segment of the population is now willing to think before they pull out their wallets, and vote with their consumer dollars for products and services that are not only healthy and organic, but socially and environmentally responsible as well.

OCA keeps growing by leaps and bounds. We now have 350,000 subscribers on our email list, and 800,000 visitors to our website each month. But to survive and grow we need your help now—more than ever—to safeguard organic standards, protect public health and the environment, and build sustainable communities. If you haven’t already, please use this link to send us a donation. And thank you so much for your previous support.

Regards & Solidarity,
Ronnie Cummins

Bio-Democracy or Biotech Tyranny?

Despite the huge growth of organic food and farms, and international consumer opposition to GE crops, the biotech industry is spreading like a cancer. Mutant soy, corn, cotton and canola crops are now cultivated on 114 million acres in the US and 194 million acres worldwide. These crops are laced with foreign DNA, which allows cells to produce insecticides or be resistant to antibiotics and toxic weed killers.

Gene Giants Monsanto, Bayer, Dow, Syngenta, and BASF continue bullying consumers and farmers by blocking attempts in North America to require labeling and safety testing, and refusing to accept liability for the increasing genetic pollution of organic and non-GE crops. Even as scientific evidence mounts that GE foods are hazardous to human health and the environment, even as small farmers worldwide denounce the patenting and monopolization of seed varieties, Monsanto relentlessly moves forward. They are buying off politicians and regulators, and buying out seed companies, most recently Seminis, the world’s largest fruit and vegetable seed company. Although public opposition has so far stopped the commercialization of GE wheat, GE alfalfa and rice will likely be cultivated in 2006. In opposition, “GE-Free Zones” and bans on GE crops are spreading worldwide. In the US, the heartland of biotech, three California counties (Mendocino, Trinity, and Marin) have banned GE crops, while 100 townships in New England have called for a moratorium.

Monsanto and the Farm Bureau have launched a counter-attack on BioDemocracy, attempting to take away local citizens’ rights to ban Frankencrops. Fourteen state legislatures, (ID, AZ, ND, SD, IA, KS, OK, IN, OH, WV, PA, TX, FL, GA), have already passed profoundly undemocratic “Monsanto laws,” effectively preempting local governments from banning or regulating GE seeds and crops. California, Michigan, and North Carolina currently have preemption bills pending in their state legislatures, and more Monsanto laws are expected to be introduced in 2006.

The time has come to put an end to Frankencrops and biotech bullying once and for all. To protect ourselves from this blatant attack on democracy and public health, we need to get active now, and stop or reverse state preemption laws. We must go on the offensive and restore consumer choice by pushing for local and state laws requiring mandatory labeling and “polluter pays” liability. Nationally, we must build broad support for federal legislation requiring mandatory labels on GE foods, such as the bill being sponsored in Congress by Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.

We stand at the crossroads: BioDemocracy or Biotech Tyranny. We need your volunteer participation and financial support for this crucial effort. For more info and to get involved, please visit www.organicconsumers.org/ge-free.htm

A Declaration of Interdependence

Breaking The Chains: Global Call To Action
November 13 - December 31, 2005:
Buy Local, Boycott Wal-Mart and the Chains

Dear Friends,

November 13 - December 31, 2005, the busiest shopping season of the year, we the undersigned, call on ethically responsible people across the world to Break the Chains of self-destructive consumerism by boycotting Wal-Mart and other national and international chain stores, fast food restaurants, corporate coffeehouses, and products bearing the logos of the multinational Brand Name Bullies. Hoping to generate the largest impact possible, during the main shopping season of the year, we call upon the global grassroots to Buy Local, Buy Organic and Buy Fair Trade/Fair Made.

Wal-Mart and the multinational chains are colonizing our communities and our minds, North & South, East & West, rural and urban, killing off small businesses, exploiting workers and farmers, devastating the environment, and sowing a toxic culture of cheap goods and social unaccountability. Unless we stop this Wal-Martization of our communities, we can say goodbye to Fair Trade, family farms, independent businesses, workers rights, and environmental sustainability.

From Manhattan to Mexico, from China to Chile, farmers, consumers and independent businesses are resisting the invasion of Wal-Mart and the Corporate Chain stores and building grassroots power through local, green, and just commerce. The answer to Wal-Martization and so-called “Free Trade” is ethical consumer purchasing and political action—building and supporting local and community-based producers and businesses through solidarity, collective purchasing power, and mutual aid. Fair Trade, not Free Trade, must become the global norm, with organic and sustainable production leading the way.

Local and community control over essential goods and services provides the only solid foundation for economic democracy, a sustainable environment, and public health.
Help us make Buy Local Month 2005 the beginning of the end for Wal-Mart and the Corporate Chains. Please join us as we step up the pace to re-localize and green a just global economy.

Consumers of the world unite!
We have nothing to lose but our chains!

In Solidarity,

Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association
Vandana Shiva, Research Foundation for Science, Technology, & Ecology (India)
Kevin Danaher, Global Exchange
Judy Wicks, White Dog Café
Anna and Frances Moore Lappé, Small Planet Institute
Randy Hayes, International Forum on Globalization
Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians (Canada)
Frente Civico (Mexico)
John Stauber, Center for Media and Democracy
Kenny Ausubel, Bioneers
Lorette Picciano, Rural Coalition/Coalición Rural
Robin Seydel, La Montanita Coop
Deb Edrozo, Bike Aid
André and Julia Leu, Organic Federation of Australia (Australia)
Jennifer Rockne, American Independent Business Alliance

Food For Thought

Before You Pull Out Your Wallet

  • Who profits from this sale?
    Are you buying this product from a national chain, or buying locally from an independent business, coop, or family farm?
  • Where was this item grown or made?
    How far did it travel?
  • Were farmers’ or workers’ rights protected?
    Did the producer receive a living wage?
    Is it certified organic or Fair Trade?
  • Is the company that makes or sells this item socially responsible?
  • Is this product genuinely ecological and healthy?
  • What would be an organic, local, and Fair Trade or Fair Made alternative?

Take the Breaking the Chains Pledge

Whenever Possible, I Will:

  • Buy Organic, Fair Trade, and Fair Made products.
  • Boycott Wal-Mart and the Big Box chains, as well as chain bookstores, restaurants, grocery stores, and coffeehouses.
  • Buy locally or regionally produced organic and green products.
  • Buy Organic, Made in USA, Union Made, or Fair Made clothing, or else shop for vintage and recycled garments.
  • Boycott sweatshop products from nations such as China, where labor rights are routinely violated.
  • Give preference to independent, locally owned, or cooperative businesses.
  • Turn off corporate controlled television, radio, magazines and newspapers, and tune in to the alternative media.

The Breaking the Chains Buying Guide

    1. Local Harvest
      Use this site to find grocers and coops, farmers markets, & other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and other foods.
    2. Eat Well Guide
      The Eat Well Guide is a free directory of grass-fed and sustainably-raised meat, dairy and eggs from stores, farms and restaurants in your area.
    3. The SuperMarket Coop
      A fair trade online store featuring organic food, handmade crafts & gifts. The Coop was designed to help limited resource and minority producers and artisans market their products.
    4. Certified Organic Food Directory
      This site features comprehensive lists of certified growers, manufacturers, machinery suppliers, brokers, wholesalers, service & support companies and certifying agents.
    5. Independent Grocers Association
      Find an independent grocer committed to community near you!
    6. Delocator.net
      Huge listing of local and non-corporate cafes & coffee shops in your neighborhood.
    7. Booksense.com
      Visit booksense.com for a site that supports community-based bookstores when you don’t have one in your hometown! Their services include gift certificates good at over 1000 participating independent stores.
    8. American Specialty Toy Retailing Association
      The national trade association for independent toy stores and manufacturers of creative, well-made toys. Use ASTRA’s toy store finder to locate a unique toy store near you!
    9. Clean Clothes Connection
      Looking for clean, organic and non-sweatshop clothing? The Clean Clothes Connection has a large database of both local retailers & web based companies.
    10. TransFair USA
      Certified Fair Trade Products. TransFair USA has a searchable database to find a retailer that carries Fair Trade Certified products in your neighborhood.
    11. Greenpeople.org
      Greenpeople.org is the leading green directory of eco-friendly products & services. Buy Green, Sell Green, Be Green.
    12. Co-op America’s Green Pages
      The nation’s only directory of screened and approved green businesses.
    13. New Farm Locator
      Farmers can tell you how and why they farm the way they do on The New Farm Locator from The Rodale Institute. Search for farms by how they market or what they sell.

USDA Bows to Organic Consumer Pressure on Body Care Labeling

The OCA would like to thank all of you who have been involved in our Coming Clean Campaign, whether you took part in our action alerts or have been supporting true organic body care companies.

The USDA has responded to these organic consumer demands and has agreed to allow body care products that meet national organic standards to carry the USDA seal. Although this ruling seems logical, it has been a hard fought battle between consumer advocates and natural products companies that seek to mislead consumers with fraudulent “organic” label claims for the sake of increasing profits.

The organic body care aisle of your favorite store is still littered heavily with products that carry bold “organic” advertising claims while containing a host of conventional synthetic ingredients. But now that the USDA will allow qualifying organic products to carry its seal, consumers have a reliable method for distinguishing true organic products from those that may or may not be using false labeling claims.

The USDA’s announcement to allow body care products in its organic labeling program was in response to a June 14 lawsuit against the agency, filed by the OCA and Dr. Bronner’s, a leading organic body care and hemp food company. The USDA’s action effectively redefines the scope of the national program to include all qualifying organic products, including body care, pet foods, and nutritional supplements. Prior to this lawsuit, only human food products or individual ingredients were considered eligible for the USDA Certified Organic label.

The OCA’s Coming Clean Campaign is now focused on helping body care companies make the conversion to an ingredient formulation that would meet the USDA’s strict criteria for organic labeling. In the meantime, we will continue to expose those companies who are attempting to confuse consumers with misleading labels.

How To Make Money Fast!

Quick Tip for the Unscrupulous Business Person:

Currently, one of the most common and successful methods of tricking an organic consumer into buying a body care product that doesn’t necessarily contain many organic ingredients is by creating a business with the word “organic” in your trade name.

By having a business name like “Nature’s Gate Organics,” for example, you can legally make the “organic” portion of your business name as big and bold as you want on your product label, even if the product is not considered organic by federal standards. The consumer will see this bold labeling and assume your product is truly organic. As a noted benefit of this practice, organic consumers are known to pay more for what they consider to be a healthier and superior product.

By misleading the consumer with this labeling technique, you may charge more for your product without having the related expenses which would normally be required to source enough organic ingredients to meet USDA federal organic labeling laws.

How To Save Money Fast!

Quick Tip for the Conscious Organic Consumer:

When buying organic body care products, look for the USDA Organic seal. This is currently the “gold standard” for organic body care products. If a product does not carry the USDA seal, read the ingredient label closely to determine how much of the product is actually organic.

OCA Lobbies for Sustainable Agriculture

Consumers Demand an End to Disastrous Cotton and Crop Subsidies

Besides promoting organics, safeguarding organic standards, and challenging genetic engineering and industrial agriculture practices, OCA has worked hard all year to mobilize America’s 50 million organic and green-minded consumers into a potent force for political and legislative change. Part of this effort has been to set up a Washington, DC office and to begin lobbying Congress to eliminate $20 billion a year in wasteful and destructive crop subsidies for GE and chemical-intensive cotton, soybeans, corn, and other crops.

In this campaign we’ve generated thousands of letters and phone calls from our network asking Congress to use taxpayer subsidies to help family farmers and ranchers make the difficult but necessary transition to organic farming, to develop local markets, and to adopt renewable energy practices. We have joined with hunger, church, environmental, & human rights organizations to try to stop Congress from cutting back essential food stamp and nutrition programs. In September and October, OCA grassroots lobbying intensified with our members making 20,000 phone calls to Congress and emailing 250,000 letters, calling on Washington to leave strict organic standards intact and to allocate money to help organic and transition to organic farmers meet these strict standards.

Although OCA is the “new kid on the block” inside the Beltway and in state capitals across the nation, our reputation as a powerful voice for millions of organic consumers is spreading. With your volunteer participation and support, we will expand our public policy advocacy over the next year with a special emphasis on the 2007-2012 Farm Bill.

In Memoriam

Lois Frances Mentele Werner
Mother, Grandmother, Teacher, Activist
February 7, 1941 – April 13, 2005

Lois was born and raised on a South Dakota farm, where she developed a love of the natural world. She brought this love to Oakland, California, where she had a tremendous impact on the many children she taught for 29 years, while learning much from them.

Lois lived each day to the fullest, and enriched her family and all who knew her with her spirituality and deep appreciation of art, music, dancing, gardening, story telling, and travel. She was passionate for healthy organic nutritious food.

Lois had a special way of turning an ordinary day into something magical. Her unique perspective, thoughtful advice, and gentle soul will be greatly missed.

The OCA is honored to be among the groups that Lois felt worthy of leaving a part of her legacy. We will move forward motivated by her strength and her generous gift.

Organic Consumers Association

National Director

RONNIE CUMMINS

Policy Advisory Board

WILL ALLEN
Vermont Organic Farmer
MAUDE BARLOW
Council of Canadians
JAY FELDMAN
Beyond Pesticides
JIM & REBECCA GOODMAN
Wisconsin Organic Farmers
JEAN HALLORAN
Consumers Union
TIM HERMACH
Native Forest Council
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 KRUG
New York Dairy Farmer
HOWARD LYMAN
Voice for a Viable Future
VICTOR MENOTTI
International Forum on Globalization
FRANCES MOORE-LAPPÉ
Author & Activist
ROBIN SEYDEL
La Montanita Co-op, NM
VANDANA SHIVA
Research Foundation for Science,
Technology & Natural Resource Policy, India
JOHN STAUBER
Center for Media and Democracy

OCA STAFF

Ronnie Cummins, National Director
Rose Welch, General Manager
Craig Minowa, Environmental Scientist
Ryan Zinn, National Campaign Director
Loranda McLeete, Office Manager
Steve Urow, Web Master
Mary Anselment, Database Manager
Adam Eidinger, Media Coordinator
Alexis Baden-Meyer, Lobbyist
Zuri Allen, Southern CA Field Coordinator
Katya Kruglak, National Field Organizer
Judy Linman, Field Organizer
Amy Gardner, Member Services Coordinator
Honor Schauland, Member Services
David Welch, Field Organizer
Matt Tyler, Field Organizer
Nancy Anselment-Olson, Database
Charlene Birdseye, Data Entry
Casey Oppenheim, General Counsel
Michael Greger, MD, Mad Cow Specialist
Will Allen, Cotton Project Coordinator
Danila Oder, Irradiation Specialist
Liz Welch, Graphic Design
Nick Lethert, Graphic Design