ORGANIC VIEW (Text version)
A Publication of The Organic Consumers Association
Membership Update á Spring 2002
OCA GOES INTERNATIONAL
Over the past several decades the slogan "Think globally, act locally" has been put into practice by millions of green-minded and socially responsible citizens. The grassroots-based alternative food system in the US is a living embodiment of this principle, with thousands of local organic producers, retail outlets, consumer cooperatives, buying clubs, farmers markets, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects flourishing across the country.
But now, confronted by the daunting power and scope of transnational corporations and governments promoting dangerous technology such as genetic engineering (GE), activist groups like the OCA and Greenpeace are finding that we must campaign internationally-as well as locally and nationally-if we are to stand up to the forces of globalization and move the planet in a healthier, sustainable direction.
Since 1997, the OCA's newsletter BioDemocracy News, with subscribers all over the world, has been a leading voice in reporting on trends of agricultural biotechnology and the international movements against "Frankenfoods" and crops. Last year we began translating BioDemocracy News and other key materials into Spanish and distributing them throughout Latin America, where they are becoming increasingly popular. The OCA realizes that we must campaign against the Gene Giants (Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont, Dow, BASF, and Bayer) and marketplace food and beverage giants like Starbucks, Kraft and McDonald's on the international level, as well as the local and national level, if we are to be successful.
Over the winter months the OCA has taken several major steps toward becoming a more international organic consumers network and campaign organization. While still recognizing that the OCA's primary task is to unite America's 50 million "Cultural Creatives," green-minded voters, and organic consumers into a massive and powerful force in the marketplace and the political realm, we are moving on several international fronts as well.
Between February 23 and March 2, OCA volunteers staged simultaneous protests and leafleting events at 400 Starbucks outlets in seven nations-the US, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, and Israel. OCA protests over the past year have forced Starbucks to rethink its policies on GE food and beverages, to swear off the future use of GE coffee, to buy and promote more Fair Trade and organic coffee, and to begin to offer organic milk, soy milk, and yoghurt in its US cafes. Starbucks is the largest gourmet coffee company in the world with cafes in 18 nations. In the future the OCA plans to internationalize the Starbucks campaign even more-challenging the coffee giant head-on as it opens new outlets in Europe, Asia, and Latin America.
On April 17, the OCA joined with Global Exchange, Via Campesina, Genetically Engineered Food Alert, and other leading farmer, indigenous, and environmental groups throughout the Americas to stage protests calling for a halt to the "dumping" of GE corn on Mexico and other Latin American countries where "genetic pollution" threatens thousands of traditional and irreplaceable varieties of corn. From the grain exchanges of Winnipeg, Canada, Minneapolis, and Chicago to the US Embassy in Mexico City and rural communities in Chiapas, extending throughout Central America to southern Brazil, consumers, farmers, and indigenous people made it clear that they intend to put an end to the Biotech Century and its globalized regimes of hyper-Free Trade and Frankencrops, before further damage is done. For the first time protesters got together North and South, urban and rural, demanding that the biotech industry, specifically Monsanto, Aventis, and Syngenta, stop dumping unlabeled, untested, and likely harmful GE corn on consumers and the environment. Protest targets included US Embassies, grain and commodities exchanges, Mexican consulate offices, ports, and corporate headquarters of the large grain exporters (Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland) and biotech companies. The OCA's new office in Chiapas, Mexico played a major role in organizing the Continental Campaign against GE Corn on April 17.
In the up--coming months OCA intends to step up its international work, cooperating closely with its public interest allies, especially in Canada and Mexico. In the fall, the OCA plans to launch its Clothes for a Change campaign (pressuring major companies to ban GE cotton, blend organic cotton into its products, and to eliminate-ate sweatshop suppliers) with simultaneous protests in North America, Europe, and Japan.
In July, the OCA will launch its new Organic Communities Exchange program by hosting a delegation of US and Canadian organic consumers to visit organic farmers and communities in Chiapas, Mexico. -See the accompanying article for more information.
IS "USDA ORGANIC" GRADE B ORGANIC?
In October, many of the products in your local health food store or coop will start bearing the label "USDA Organic." This culminates a controversial, decade-long process in which the federal government, specific-ally the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its appointees to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), now have legal control over what can or can't be labeled "organic." From the beginning, the OCA was skeptical about turning over control of the organic certification process to federal bureaucrats, as opposed to leaving it in the hands of non-govern-mental third party certifiers and the states, but now "USDA Organic" has become the law of the land.
The USDA's infamous proposed federal regulations on organic food in 1997 (which gave birth to the OCA) suggested it was okay to use GE, irradiation, toxic sludge, intensive animal confinement, animal cannibalism, and pesticides, and still label such products as "USDA Organic." After a tremendous backlash by organic consumers across the country, the Feds decided it was too politically risky-at least for the moment-to degrade organic standards and turn over the nation's multibillion-dollar organic food industry to corporate agribusiness.
Now organic standards may be at risk once again as George Bush Jr. tries his best to outdo Bill Clinton in catering to the transnational food giants, biotechnology corporations, and the nuclear irradiation lobby. Keep in mind that Anne Veneman, Bush's Secretary of Agriculture, has final say over appointments to the National Organic Standards Board. Before serving as USDA head, Veneman was an executive for Calgene, a biotechnology company acquired by Monsanto. Later, she was the head of the California Department of Agriculture and promoted pro-agribusiness, pro-industrial forestry policies.
If Bush and company allow corporate lobbyists to degrade organic standards and open loopholes for industrial agriculture to take over the "USDA Organic" label (by allowing intensive confinement of farm animals, loopholes on genetically modified organisms, and more synthetic ingredients in organic production, for example) the OCA will consider joining in on a federal lawsuit to stop this.
Even more important than monitoring the USDA Organic program is understanding the limitations of the "USDA Organic" label itself and figuring out how we as organic consumers can find and purchase "real organic" products, which not only meet the minimum health and production standards of the federal government, but also serve to promote environmental sustainability, social justice, Fair Trade-especially between consumers in the industrialized world and farmers in the developing nations-and humane treatment of animals.
The basic position of the OCA is that "USDA Organic" is and will remain for the foreseeable future "Grade B" organic. This Grade B organic is certainly better, safer, and healthier than the chemically and genetically contaminated industrial food which fills the shelves of America's supermarkets and convenience stores, but it is not necessarily a full embodiment of the organic ideal. "Real organic" food, Grade A organic, if you will, embodies additional characteristics which the USDA does not consider to be important-for example Fair Trade or social justice requirements guaranteeing equity to small farmers and farm workers; local or regional production by smaller, family farm producers which reduces food miles, energy use, and greenhouse gases; and guaranteed humane treatment of farm animals, to name just a few.
In other words, by all means keep buying organic food (and clothing), but at the same time try to go "Beyond USDA Organic," by keeping in mind an additional set of principles:
1. Buy local, unprocessed, and in season foods whenever possible. Long-distance shipped, or heavily processed and packaged organic foods require the use of tremendous amounts of energy compared to locally or regionally produced and unprocessed foods. The average food item in American supermarkets has traveled 1400 miles. A significant percentage of all the trucks on the highway are carrying food and beverage products over large distances. Twenty-five percent of all greenhouse gases in the US are a by-product of industrial agriculture, food processing and long-distance food transportation. Avoid organic foods with wasteful or non-recyclable packaging.
2. Buy organic, shade-grown coffee and other products that bear the Fair Trade or Union Made label. Fair Trade certification means that producers are guaranteed a living wage and decent working conditions. Keep in mind that products produced on corporate farms or plantations where farm workers are exploited can still bear the label "USDA Organic." The OCA is currently lobbying food companies in the USA such as Starbucks to purchase and sell significant quantities of Fair Trade certified coffee, chocolate, tea, sugar, and bananas-products which are already offered on a mass scale under the Fair Trade label in Europe. In the US the only Union Made (United Farm Workers Union) label currently on organic products is found on a limited supply of California strawberries.
3. Give your business, whenever possible, to local businesses and local farmers, rather than large national or transnational corporations. Just because prices on some organic items are cheaper in the supermarket chains, doesn't mean you should give them your business. Just because Starbucks is starting to offer organic milk and soy milk (for an outrageous 40 cents per cup extra charge) and sell a token amount of Fair Trade coffee, doesn't mean you shouldn't support your local coffee shop, especially if they're willing to do better than Starbucks in terms of offering organic selections and promoting Fair Trade. Support your local natural food stores, farmers markets, CSA's, and cooperatives -these are key institutions if we are to build and maintain a sustainable and socially responsible economy.
We are what we eat and what we consume. We owe it to ourselves and the planet to move beyond "USDA Organic" to the real thing.
A MESSAGE FROM THE DIRECTOR
Spring greetings and heartfelt thanks from the OCA. Thanks to your support and the backing of thousands of contributors and volunteers like yourself over the past six months, we are moving ahead on all fronts. There are now 30 million Americans consuming organic food on a regular basis. Polls indicate that the majority of consumers are more and more concerned about the perils of chemical-intensive industrial agriculture and genetic engineering.
In spite of war, conflict, and environmental crisis, a critical mass of "Cultural Creatives" are reaching out and finding one another and slowly but surely taking back control over their everyday lives-in the kitchen, in their local schools, in their neighborhoods, and eventually in society at large. In campaigns such as those organized by the OCA, consumers are showing that the power of the grassroots is formidable-that if we're well-organized and persistent, we can take on billion-dollar corporations like Starbucks, Trader Joe's, Safeway, and Kraft and force them to change their practices. Even in the realm of big money politics, organic consumers in 1998 showed Washington bureaucrats that there would be major consequences if they tried to degrade organic standards and facilitate a takeover of the organic food system by corporate agribusiness.
In the wake of September 11, a nationwide survey found that 3/4 of the US public feel "more strongly than ever" that corporations must practice "social responsibility," and that consumers are willing to pay more for the Fair Trade/Fair Made products and services of socially responsible companies. Since 9/11, sales of organic and natural food products have increased by 15%. People are eating out in restaurants less and are cooking their own meals at home. Americans are more concerned about food safety and the health of their families than ever before.
The OCA's nationwide network, Food Agenda 2000-2010, is growing rapidly, with 250,000 of the nation's ten million organic households already enrolled. Our website www.organicconsumers.org continues to attract hundreds of thousands of regular visitors every month, and is considered to be one of the best sites in the world on the topics we address. OCA's three new campaigns, Safeguard Our Schools, Clothes for a Change, and Fatal Harvest/Beyond USDA Organic are getting into gear with tremendous potential.
We have now set up a new campaign office in Mexico and are starting to offer "Organic Communities Exchange" tours for North American organic consumers and farmers to visit our counterparts in Mexico, starting with a one-week trip to Chiapas July 7-14.
Our pressure campaigns against Starbucks and other corporate food giants continue to grow. On Feb. 23-March 2, OCA volunteers leafleted and protested in front of 400 Starbucks locations-including six nations overseas. On November 14, 2001 Trader Joe's supermarket chain surrendered to the demands of Greenpeace, the OCA, and other groups and agreed to remove all GE ingredients from their brand name products. On April 17, 2002, the OCA helped organize protests throughout the Americas against GE corn, the first major project of OCA's new international campaign office in Mexico.
We've come a long way, but the road ahead will be difficult. We need your volunteer energy and your financial contributions more than ever. Please support us! -Ronnie Cummins
ORGANIC COMMUNITIES EXCHANGE - OCA'S NEW ECO-TOURS TO MEXICO
The OCA is happy to announce a new program: Organic Communities Exchange Tours. OCA staff will lead delegations of organic consumers and farmers to visit their counterparts in Mexico and Meso America.
The first OCA Organic Communities Exchange Tour will take place July 7-14, 2002. The tour, limited to 15 people, will travel to beautiful San Cristobal de las Casas in the temperate highlands of Chiapas, Mexico to visit indigenous organic coffee and vegetable farmers, sustainable agriculture groups, and traditional Mayan herbalists and healers-experiencing the amazing biodiversity and cultural richness of Mexico's southernmost state. The tour will include organic cuisine, biodiversity seminars, "hands on" workshops with organic chefs, meetings with coops and women's groups, and visits to Mayan ruins and autonomous indigenous communities.
The OCA guarantees this will be an enjoyable, inspiring, and unforgettable travel experience. After the trip, tour participants will have the opportunity for further interactions and exchanges with the communities visited. Costs of the seven-day trip will be $800, (airfare not included). To reserve your spot, since space is limited, send a $400 deposit check to the national OCA office or email email@example.com for further information.
The OCA is joining with a coalition of over a dozen other groups to promote an important new book called Fatal Harvest. (www.fatalharvest.org)
The book has inspired a national coalition that will be organizing a public education effort called Organic & Beyond to promote alternatives to industrial agriculture.
Fatal Harvest (Island Press, May 2002) is a powerful collection of essays by authors such as Vandana Shiva, Andy Kimbrell, and Wendell Berry, exposing the environmental and social destruction caused by industrial agriculture and genetic engineering while promoting sustainable and organic food production. The book's essays are accompanied by scores of extraordinary photographs.
The oversized, strikingly photographed book will retail for $49.99, but will be made available free to all contributors to the Organic Consumers Association who give a tax-deductible donation of $200 or more. Fatal Harvest will make a great addition to your local library or school. You can order a book by calling Island Press at 800-828-1302 or buying it through your local independent bookstore. Better yet, send the OCA a donation for $200 or more and we'll send you a free book.
ANTI-GE FOODS UPDATE
The OCA continues to expand its activities on the Frankenfoods front. Since last fall OCA volunteers have handed out hundreds of thousands of leaflets in front of supermarkets and coffee shops in over 400 cities, pressuring companies like Starbucks and Kraft/Philip Morris to get GE ingredients out of their product lines-something that leading food corporations and supermarket chains have already done in Europe and Japan. A major target of the OCA and other anti-GE food groups last year was Trader Joe's, an upscale supermarket chain operating primarily on the East and West Coasts (and Chicago) with a billion dollars in annual sales and a similar customer base to Starbucks.
On November 14, the eve of national protests directed against Trader Joe's, the company surrendered to Greenpeace, the OCA, and other groups by announcing that the chain was eliminating all GMOs (genetically modified organisms) from its brand name product lines. 88% of Trader Joe's products bear its own private label. Following in the wake of two other billion dollar natural food supermarket chains-Whole Foods and Wild Oats-also going GMO-free, the OCA believes the "supermarket dominoes are starting to fall." The OCA has now joined Greenpeace and members of the Genetic Engineering Action Network to target the nation's largest regional supermarket chains such as Safeway, Shaw's, A&P, and Food Lion. Please email Simon Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to get involved in leafleting supermarkets in your area.
On February 6, and again on April 17-22, the OCA joined members of its national coalition, the Genetically Engineered Food Alert (GEFA) www.gefoodalert.org and leafleted supermarkets in over 150 cities, putting special pressure on Kraft, the largest food company in the US, to remove all GE ingredients from its product line. The OCA and the GEFA coalition have also mounted an ongoing letter and fax campaign against Kraft.
On the media front, the OCA has been interviewed by the media on more than 200 different occasions in the past six months on the GE foods issue. Meanwhile, the OCA's own media www.organicconsumers.org and BioDemocracy News continue to grow by leaps and bounds.
On the legislative and lobbying front, the OCA is happy to announce the launch of our sister organization, the Organic Consumers Fund (OCF), a 501(c)4 lobbying organization. The OCF has begun outreach on the West Coast to promote anti-GE and pro-organic initiatives under the slogan of "uniting Green voters and organic consumers." In the fall the OCF plans to wage a campaign to support an Oregon ballot initiative that will require mandatory labeling of all GE foods. If the Oregon initiative passes, the OCF plans to help groups all over the country pass similar initiatives. The OCF also plans to lobby in support of Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich's federal bill for mandatory labeling of GE foods, expected to be introduced into the US Congress shortly. Last year Kucinich's bill gained over 50 co-sponsors, but failed to reach the floor of the House for a vote.
As described in a separate article the OCA has also increased its international campaigning against GE foods and crops, especially in the ongoing Starbucks campaign and in the Continental Campaign Against Genetically Engineered Corn, which was launched throughout the Americas on April 17.
OCA'S STARBUCKS CAMPAIGN
After a full year of campaigning, OCA's pressure campaign against Starbucks is bearing fruit. Our volunteer network getting larger, with protests and leafleting at 400 Starbucks cafes in seven nations during our global week of actions February 23-March 2, and we are getting more and more publicity in the media-from the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times of London to CNN and National Public Radio. Feeling pressure from thousands of its customers, stockholders, and even its own workers, Starbucks has slowly but surely started to give in to our demands. As the Financial Times reported on March 11, the OCA's Starbucks campaign has sent a clear message to today's food and beverage trans-nationals that they'd best not pretend to be socially and environmentally responsible, unless they are prepared to walk their talk.
Since we began our "Frankenbucks" campaign in March 2001, Starbucks has:
Sworn off ever using GE coffee beans.
Started offering rBGH milk and soymilk as an option in all of its 3000 US cafes.
Reformulated some of its products to avoid GE ingredients.
Admitted that less than one percent of its $2.6 billion in sales are from Fair Trade coffee.
Started offering organic yogurt and milk in many of its US cafes.
Agreed to start brewing Fair Trade and organic coffee as its coffee of the day at least one day a month in the USA.
Admitted that 80% of the 32 million gallons of milk it buys each year in the US are tainted with Monsanto's rBGH.
Begun test marketing organic baked goods.
Started selling Fair Trade certified coffee in bulk form in all of its cafes worldwide.
Agreed to start paying at least slightly more for the coffee it buys worldwide.
Agreed to buy at least one million pounds of Fair Trade coffee over the next year.
Although Starbucks has gone halfway in terms of meeting our demands, OCA staff and volunteers intend to keep up the pressure. Volunteers are continuing to leaflet their local Starbucks and to approach other local coffee shops and regional chains such as Caribou to support OCA's demands for no GE milk or other ingredients and for offering and promoting organic and Fair Trade beverages and foods.
OCA volunteers are currently building up a "preferred list" of non-Starbucks coffee shops in the USA who are doing the "right thing." Campaign staff are also stepping up efforts to spread the campaign internationally. If you wish to get involved in the Starbucks campaign in your area send an email to email@example.com or call OCA's national office at 218-226-4164.
AGRIBUSINESS PRESSURES NATIONAL ORGANIC STANDARDS BOARD TO OK INTENSIVE CONFINEMENT OF FARM ANIMALS
The USDA's National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is under intense pressure from corporate agribusiness to allow poultry, eggs, beef, and dairy products to bear the "USDA Organic" label even if farm animals are kept in intensive confinement, with no access to the outdoors or pasture. The OCA is asking consumers to fax and write the NOSB and tell them this is unacceptable. Fax your letters to Katherine Benham at 202-205-7808, and then mail them to: National Organic Standards Board c/o Katherine Benham Room 4008-South Bldg. 1400 Independence Ave. SW Washington, DC 20250
CALIFORNIA COMMUNITIES PAVE THE WAY FOR OCA'S SCHOOLS CAMPAIGN
In March, Oakland, California became one of the first major school districts in the United States to ban junk foods and soda pop from vending machines in schools. Despite objections by Coca-Cola and other junk food purveyors, and despite the loss of revenues from vending machines, parents and school officials in the 54,000 student district felt a ban was a necessary first step to get students to start eating healthier foods. California, like other states is struggling with a literal epidemic of obesity and type-2 diabetes among school age youth.
In the adjoining school district of Berkeley, parents and school district officials have begun a "transition to organic" school lunch program, as well as an innovative organic school garden project to teach students about organic agriculture and healthy food choices.
A similar organic lunch program is in motion in Santa Monica, outside of Los Angeles. In Fairfax, north of San Francisco, city authorities have declared a ban on all toxic pesticides within the city limits-including parks, private lawns and school grounds and buildings. The OCA is attempting to spread these California models nationwide in its new campaign called SOS, Safeguard Our Students. For more information consult the SOS section on our website:
SAFEGUARD OUR STUDENTS
The OCA has begun rolling out its national campaign on school lunches and curriculum reform called Safeguard Our Students (SOS). The campaign aims to pressure cities and schools to kick junk foods and junk food ads out of schools; to start getting organic foods and menu items into schools, including vegetarian options; to start teaching students about sustainable agriculture and healthy food choices, through curriculum materials and projects like organic school gardens; and to get schools to stop spraying toxic pesticides and convert to integrated pest management practices.
The OCA has already recruited teachers, parents, and activists across the USA who want to work on the SOS campaign in their schools. The OCA is soliciting donations to begin testing school lunches in strategic communities for pesticide residues and GE ingredients. To get involved in the OCA's SOS campaign send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Liz at 612-729-1704.
CLOTHES FOR A CHANGE
The OCA will be launching a campaign in the fall of 2002 called Clothes for a Change (CFAC). The campaign will pressure leading clothing companies such as the Gap, Levi's, Ralph Lauren, and Nike to remove all genetically engineered 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. To get involved in CFAC activities in your area, send an email to email@example.com or call Simon at 510-525-7054.
CONTINENTAL CAMPAIGN AGAINST GE CORN
April 17 Corn Campaign actions included teach-ins, marches, press conferences, round table discussions, workshops, fax actions, demonstrations, university debates, and land takeovers. These actions took place in many cities and towns throughout the Americas, including San Cristobal, Tuxtla, Tapachula, Sabanilla, Comitan, and San Andreas in Mexico; Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Chicago in the US; Winnipeg in Canada; and throughout Central and South America: Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, Paraguay, Columbia, Argentina, and Brazil, among others.
FREE ELECTRONIC NEWSLETTER!
BioDemocracy News is our free electronic newsletter that contains comprehensive news and analysis on Organics, Genetic Engineering, Fair Trade, globalization and factory farming. To subscribe or request back issues, go to our website or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
The OCA's electronic newsletter lessens the load on your mailbox and the environment by keeping our mailings to a minimum, and helps the OCA save money on printing and postage.
Ronnie Cummins, National Director
Rose Welch, Campaign Manager
Loranda McLeete, Office Manager
Kate Smith, Data Base Manager
Amy Gardner, Membership Services
Claudia Rodriguez, Mexico Office
Jody Dotson, Development Assistant
Charlene Birdseye, Data Base
Mary Anselment, Office Assistant
Liz Welch, SOS, Illustration
Nick Lethert, Graphic Design
Simon Harris, Berkeley, CA
Ange Hill, Seattle, WA
Judy Linman, McCall, ID
Connie Minowa, Duluth, MN
Christie Phillips, Chicago, IL
Chris Treter, Traverse City, MI
Tom Taylor, Minneapolis, MN
Steve Urow, Web Master
Michael Greger, Mad Cow Section
Danila Oder, Irradiation Section
Craig Minowa, Starbucks Section
OCA POLICY BOARD
Council of Canadians
National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides
Native Forest Council
Pesticide Action Network
JULIA BUTTERFLY HILL
Forest Activist & Author
Ashland Community Food Store, OR
Network for Safe & Secure Food & Environment, Japan
Youth Farm & Market Project, MN
Family Farm Defenders
Voice for a Viable Future
International Forum on Globalization
La Montanita Co-op, NM
Research Foundation for Science, Technology & Natural Resource Policy, India
Center for Media and Democracy
Organic Consumers Association
6101 Cliff Estate Rd.
Little Marais, MN 55614
Activist or Media Inquiries: 218-226-4164, Fax: 218-226-4157