A publication of the Organic Consumers Association
Membership Update - Spring 2004
VICTORY! USDA Backs Off
from Degrading Organic Standards
The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and the organic community won
a major victory on May 26, when the US Department of Agriculture reversed
themselves and announced they were suspending controversial changes in
organic standards proposed in April 2004. These changes would have allowed
the use of previously banned pesticides, antibiotics, animal drugs, growth
hormones, and non-organic animal feed on organic farms. Proposed changes
also would have formally suspended USDA monitoring and policing of organic
label claims on non-food products, opening the door for unscrupulous
companies to put bogus organic labels on products such as fish, body
care products, pet foods, vitamins, fertilizer, and clothing.
In the case of seafood and body care products, the marketplace is already starting
to become flooded with products bearing the organic label, even though the
production methods (industrial fish farms) or content (“organic” shampoos
with organic claims based upon added water) in many of these products violate
traditional organic principles. Besides giving the green light to bogus organic
labels, the recent policy changes proposed by the USDA would have penalized
genuine organic companies that have begun sourcing, certifying, and labeling
their products as organic.
Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman’s surrender came in the wake of
a major nationwide mobilization and media campaign spearheaded by the OCA and
its allies. OCA was joined in this effort by nearly the entire public interest
and organic community, including the Consumers Union, the Organic Trade Association,
organic farmers, organic businesses, certifiers, and the National Organic Standards
Board. As the USDA bureaucrats were flooded with calls and faxes from irate
consumers, as public interest attorneys prepared to file a lawsuit, and as
mass media coverage of the controversy began spreading, the Bush administration
apparently decided that they already had enough problems on their hands in
this election year.
While the OCA mobilized its nationwide network, organic businesses were gearing
up for a lawsuit against the USDA. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, a leading
manufacturer of organic and natural body care products, published an open letter
to the Organic Trade Association saying that it would pay for all legal costs
associated with a lawsuit against the USDA. David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner’s,
said, “Non-food agricultural products can support organic agriculture
and processing just as much as organic food products do. Taking away the opportunity
to certify non-food products under the NOP would have been an enormous disincentive
to non-food industries to source from and support organic agriculture.”
OCA warns however, that we must remain vigilant. The campaign to Safeguard
Organic Standards must continue. Corporate agribusiness and the biotech lobby
have decided that strict organic farming practices and the booming organic
market constitute a threat to their bottom line. They will continue to call
on their friends in Washington to degrade organic standards and prepare for
a gradual takeover of the organic market by factory-style industrial farms
and transnational food corporations. Six years ago, as you probably remember,
the Clinton administration USDA tried to do the same thing, proposing that
genetic engineering, food irradiation, and the use of sewage sludge be allowed
on organic farms. Only after an unprecedented nationwide consumer backlash
by the entire organic community, led by the OCA, did the USDA back off on these
proposals. Last year, a similar attempt to allow non-organic feed to be fed
to animals on organic farms was also defeated.
Congratulations to everyone who helped spread the alarm about this latest
attack on organic standards. A sincere thanks to those who responded
to our Action Alert, and to those who gave donations to the OCA to help
us carry on our work. The next step involves “regime change” in
Washington and the USDA—pressuring politicians to stop putting
$20-30 billion dollars of our federal tax money every year into subsidizing
genetically engineered crops, chemical intensive agriculture, and factory
farms, and instead to subsidize family farms so they can make the long
overdue transition to sustainable and organic farming practices. The
next 2007 Farm Bill must cut off destructive subsidies for export crops
such as genetically engineered and pesticide-intensive cotton, and help
tens of thousands of family farmers and ranchers make the transition
to organic. We must also make sure that future congressional bills include
adequate funding for the National Organic Standards Board and the National
Organic Program, so that these bodies can properly monitor and enforce
the integrity of organic label claims in the marketplace.
A Message from the Director
Spring greetings from the Organic Consumers Association. As I write
this letter, I have just returned from an inspiring week of meeting with
activists and OCA supporters in California, where the movement against
GE foods and industrial agriculture has reached a new level of effectiveness.
Ever since last December, when the Mad Cow crisis burst into the headlines
and reminded Americans that our industrial-style food system is out of
control, and March 2, when Mendocino County, California residents successfully
won a David versus Goliath battle against Monsanto and became the first
county in America to ban GE crops and animals, long dormant seeds of
resistance have begun sprouting. After several decades of hard work,
public education, and what, at times, seemed like beating our heads against
the wall, the organic consumer community has blossomed into a major force
for progressive change. Millions of Americans are developing what can
only be described as an appetite for change. Consumers and youth nationwide
are waking up to the fact that our health and environment are under assault,
that we are being adversely affected by what we eat, wear, and use on
our bodies, and are realizing it’s time for a “regime change,” both
in the marketplace and in the realm of public policy. As more and more
people like yourself vote with their consumer dollars for health and
sustainability, organics and Fair Trade are booming, providing a beacon
of hope, which we call BioDemocracy.
Underlining the need for “regime change” in Washington, on April
14 and 28, the USDA announced startling changes in National Organic Standards—changes
that, if implemented, would have seriously degraded traditional organic standards
and facilitated the “takeover” of the organic market by industrial
agribusiness. Thanks to a nationwide mobilization by the OCA and complaints
from the entire organic community, the USDA announced on May 26, that they
were backing off on these proposed changes and would henceforth listen more
closely to the organic community. The USDA’s quick turnaround on this
issue provides further evidence of the growing strength of the OCA and the
nation’s 30 million organic consumers.
The OCA is growing by leaps and bounds. We now have over 600,000 organic consumers
in our network, and 125,000 regular subscribers on our email list. At least
300,000 people a month visit our website, including leading activists and journalists.
Over the summer we’re rolling out a nationwide campaign called Organic
Consumers United, setting up literature, petition, and voter registration
tables in front of natural food stores, farmers markets, and college campuses.
Eventually we’ll be organizing “Meet-Ups” and film screenings
in your local community. Of course to do all this requires volunteers and money.
If you haven’t already, please
click here to send us
a donation. And thank you so much for your previous financial support and volunteer
Regards & Solidarity,
OCA Pushing for Strict Organic Body Care Standards
OCA’s Coming Clean Campaign has been successfully pressuring the
natural body care industry over the past year in an effort to establish
strict production and labeling standards for organic cosmetics. A recent
victory came when the Organic Trade Association’s Personal Care
Task Force (PCTF) in March rejected a scheme of counting ordinary water
as organic in body care products. In a 13-2 vote at the Natural Products
Expo West in Anaheim, California, the task force of natural body care
companies condemned the practice of counting as organic the water added
during the steaming of botanicals to make the hydrosol water extracts
in shampoos, conditioners, and other products.
The PCTF is currently discussing what other ingredients should and should not
be allowed in organic body care products. The OCA is pushing for food grade
or near-food grade standards for organic body care products, given that our
skin absorbs and reacts to body care products in a manner similar to our body’s
intake of foods. For this reason, OCA believes that synthetic preservatives
like parabens, (suspected carcinogens) should not be allowed in body care products
labeled as organic, nor should any petroleum-based ingredients. Unfortunately,
some of the companies in the PCTF are currently leaning towards allowing certain
synthetic chemicals under the organic label. These synthetic ingredients are
commonly found in many leading “natural” body care brands. These
shampoos, skin creams, cosmetics, and conditioners, prominently displayed in
natural food stores, are misleading consumers by using the word “organic” on
their labels, when, in fact, an examination of the specific ingredients on
their back panels reveal that they contain many of the same toxic or problematic
ingredients found in mainstream cosmetics. Genuine organic body care companies,
such as Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Vermont Soapworks, or Terressentials
have consistently supported the OCA in calling for an end to this practice.
As evidenced by the USDA’s recent, fortunately failed, attempt to abdicate
responsibility for monitoring and policing organic label claims on body care
products, the struggle to achieve strict organic standards in this sector will
not be easy.
Establishing strict food grade or near-food grade consumer-friendly organic
standards for cosmetics will mean little if companies are allowed to defraud
consumers by calling their body care products organic, when they are not. While
taking legal and political action to force the USDA to agree to once again
monitor and police organic labels on a broad range of products, including body
care products, OCA is determined to put an end to fraudulent labeling in the
marketplace, whether it means filing litigation against offending companies,
and/or working with conscientious companies and certifiers to establish an
organic label for body care products that consumers can trust. In short, OCA’s
Coming Clean Campaign is moving forward. Stay tuned to our website and newsletters
for further developments and Action Alerts.
Spreading GE-Free Zones Throughout the Americas
We stand at a crossroads in modern history: Biodemocracy or Biotechnology.
Although organic and sustainable farming is the fastest growing component
of world agriculture, 150 million acres of GE crops are planted across
the US, Canada, Argentina, and China. Since their commercial introduction
almost 10 years ago, studies have shown that GE crops and animal drugs
are damaging public health, polluting the environment, contaminating
organic crops, and steadily turning the world’s 2.4 billion farmers
and rural villagers into bioserfs. Despite a global propaganda barrage
by Monsanto and the other Gene Giants (“GE crops will feed the
world,” “GE crops use less toxic pesticides”), despite
denial of consumers’ demands for labeling and testing of GMOs,
despite attempts to dump GE-tainted corn and soybeans on impoverished
nations, despite widespread intimidation of critics, Frankencrops are
dying on the vine.
Biodemocracy is spreading. Activists, farmers, and concerned consumers
around the world have been inspired and energized by the historic vote
in Mendocino County, California on March 2, 2004 banning the production
of GE crops and animals in that county. Mendocino, following the example
of GE-Free Zones in Europe, is the first of the nation’s 3300 counties
to implement such a ban. Mendocino residents voted for the GE ban despite
the biotech industry’s outrageous $700,000 disinformation campaign.
Inspired by the Mendocino vote, local farmers, organic consumers and
grassroots activists in at least 12 of California’s 59 counties
are organizing ballot initiatives and petition drives for local GE-Free
zones. Creation of additional GE-Free zones in California, the nation’s
most important agricultural state, coupled with the expansion of the
organic foods market, could mark the beginning of the end for agricultural
biotechnology and industrial agriculture in the US.
In Pennsylvania, more than 50 townships have passed ordinances that regulate
the expansion of local factory farms.
As in California, the state Farm Bureau and biotech interests are teaming
up to implement legislation that would make it illegal for communities
to have this kind of local control.
In Vermont, grassroots activists have been successful in passing a “Farmer’s
Right to Know” bill that requires labeling of GE seeds in all retail
outlets. Finally, as a result of a truly international grassroots effort,
Monsanto has shelved plans to introduce its controversial genetically
engineered Roundup Ready wheat.
From Canada to Brazil, farmers, consumers, and activists are creating
GE-Free zones across the Americas. The latest to join the Biodemocracy
movement is Venezuela, with President Hugo Chavez announcing the first
national GE-Free zone in the Western Hemisphere. This terminates Monsanto’s
plans for 500,000 acres of GE soy in Venezuela. Venezuelans join the
Landless Workers Movement (MST) of Brazil and the Zapatistas of Chiapas
in reclaiming local communities’ right to safe food and locally
based sustainable agriculture.
The Mendocino victory poses a serious threat to Monsanto and the other
Gene Giants. The biotech industry fears that grassroots activists across
the US and Canada will now follow Mendocino’s example. As Allan
Noe, vice-president of CropLife America, a front group representing Monsanto,
Bayer, Dow, Dupont, and Syngenta stated, “We don’t want to
see this pick up any steam. The activist community is well-known for
championing causes and for going all out to fuel their beliefs.” Currently,
plans are afoot in the California state legislature to overturn Mendocino’s
victory and deny counties the right to legislate bans on GMO crops. Since
March, biotech and agribusiness interests have been lobbying key members
of the state legislature to introduce a bill to overturn Mendocino’s
GE ban, and to prohibit other California counties from enacting similar
bans. GE-Free Zones present a major roadblock to Monsanto, Bayer, and
other biotech companies’ plans to plant controversial GE crops
such as Bayer’s Liberty Link rice and Monsanto’s GE alfalfa
In response, the OCA and its allies are mounting an enormous campaign
to defend Mendocino’s Measure H, as well as to spread BioDemocracy
throughout the Americas. The campaign includes education and outreach
efforts, grassroots lobbying, and local-to-international network building.
OCA believes, despite industry propaganda, the tide has turned. The people
of the world are not willing to turn over their food and farm sovereignty
to a handful of transnational agribusiness corporations and biotechnocrats.
We are moving into the age of Biodemocracy, where organic and sustainable
farming, and a global system of Fair Trade, will become the norm.
Millions Against Monsanto
In February, 2004, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) launched
its Millions Against Monsanto campaign to mobilize one million consumers
to end Monsanto’s global corporate terrorism. Since then, concerned
consumers all over the world have joined the campaign by signing the
online petition, volunteering their time, and/or donating to the OCA’s
work. Here’s an update on Monsanto’s recent activities around
North America · Monsanto has been forced to shelve plans to introduce
its controversial genetically engineered (GE) Roundup Ready wheat. This
is a bitter defeat for Monsanto and a well-deserved victory for family
farmers and consumers.
Canada · On May 21, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled in the
Percy Schmeiser case that Monsanto owns the seeds of all farmers whose
crops test positive for patented GMOs—even if the farmers never
purchased the gene-altered seeds. The verdict has enraged farmers and
consumers worldwide, and opens up Monsanto for liability damages in a
class-action lawsuit by 1000 organic farmers in Canada.
Africa · Monsanto has withdrawn attempts to release a GE sweet
potato that the company has been working on for three years, given embarrassing
studies showing conventionally grown potatoes resist viruses just as
adequately and have a higher yield.
Brazil · The International People’s Tribunal has found Monsanto
guilty of illegally spreading GE soybeans in Brazil. Although the crop
is banned in the country, much of soya grown in the southern state of
Rio Grande do Sul is genetically modified.
Australia · After six years of efforts to push GE canola on Australian
farmers, Monsanto is being forced to admit failure, since most Australian
States have now banned the experimental crop.
Argentina · Monsanto has announced it will stop selling genetically
engineered soybean seeds, due to the company’s inability to make
a profit on the product.
Indonesia · An investigation is underway regarding an alleged
$50,000 bribe Monsanto gave to an Indonesian government official to overlook
compliance issues the corporation has been having in the country. Also
in Indonesia, Monsanto has been forced to stop selling GE cotton, due
to farmers complaining about two years of overpriced seeds and low yields.
Austria · An Austrian facility producing Monsanto’s Bovine
Growth Hormone (rBGH) was found to be contaminated, forcing Monsanto
to reduce its production of the drug by 50%. Due to human and animal
health risks, the genetically engineered hormone is banned in every industrialized
nation other than the US, Mexico, and Brazil.
India · Monsanto is being accused of biopiracy as the company
recently acquired patents and exclusive rights to a type of wheat that
Indian farmers have bred for generations. With patents in hand, Monsanto
now has the legal right to charge people for using this popular wheat,
which is used to make chapatti, the flat bread staple of Northern India.
Vietnam · Thirty years after the Vietnam war, Monsanto’s
deadly Agent Orange is still causing severe birth defects. Although the
company initially claimed the chemical would breakdown and dissipate
over a short time, toxic levels of Agent Orange in the environment continue
to plague the Vietnamese, who are once again unsuccessfully seeking supplementary
funding from the US to treat the steadily increasing number of deformed
children. Although Monsanto makes $5 billion/year, the corporation continues
to avoid all financial responsibility by claiming the chemical is not
Join OCA’s Millions
The End of Massive Cotton Subsidies?
In a late April landmark ruling, the World Trade Organization (WTO)
supported a Brazilian complaint against the US regarding massive cotton
subsidies in wealthy nations to corporate agribusiness. The US subsidizes
large cotton plantations with $3 billion of taxpayer money each year
(note: $3 billion per year is enough money to provide health insurance
for over half of the nation’s uninsured children). These subsidies
have lowered the world price of cotton by 40%, and have driven 15 million
cotton farmers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America into desperate poverty.
The WTO has now ruled that these subsidies are illegal impediments to
free trade. The WTO decision will likely lead to similar lawsuits from
other cotton exporting countries. President Bush has vowed to appeal.
Bush Stopping Protection of Ozone Layer
George W. Bush has shocked the world (again) by threatening to pull
out of the most significant international environmental treaty ever signed.
The Montreal Protocol of 1987 was a global agreement to phase out the
use of chemicals that cause the depletion of the ozone layer. Although
every industrialized nation in the world has been working for over a
decade under this treaty to protect the ozone layer, President Bush wants
Bush claims the US strawberry and tomato agriculture industry should be able
to continue using the pesticide methyl bromide, the most dangerous ozone depleting
chemical in use. Interestingly enough, the majority of growers who would benefit
from this violation of international treaty are in California and Florida,
critical electoral states in the coming election.
OCA Introduces Organic Coupon Collection
The OCA is publishing a Coupon Book to 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. Because the books will be distributed
nationwide, only nationally distributed products are being featured.
Of course, OCA always encourages support of local and regional farmers
and businesses as well.
Sometimes it’s hard to know which companies are just “greenwashing,” riding
the organic wave, and which are responsible companies with genuine organic
values and practices. The discount coupons in this book represent a select
number of companies that we can stand behind.
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. Click
here for ordering information, or to learn more about the Coupon
Mad Cow Updates
The US Government is under criminal investigation for allegedly falsifying
documents pertaining to the recent case of Mad Cow Disease in Washington
state. Specifically, the USDA reported that the beef that tested positive
for the disease came from a “downer” cow (a cow too ill to
walk). In actuality, three key eye-witnesses at the slaughterhouse say
the cow was walking and appeared to be healthy. The US Government used
the documents to alleviate concerns that cattle are not tested sufficiently
for this deadly disease in the US.
The USDA also attempted to appease domestic and international consumer
concerns by announcing wider testing for Mad Cow and new stricter regulations
on the feeding of blood, slaughterhouse waste, and manure to animals,
hoping this would reduce the potential spread of the fatal disease. However,
these rules are still not implemented, six moths after the USDA announced
its new policies.
In other Mad Cow news, pressure is mounting for a federal investigation
into a possible second case of Mad Cow Disease in San Angelo, Texas.
In April 2004, a cow staggered and collapsed at the Lone Star Beef slaughterhouse,
and under federal law should have been tested for the deadly disease.
A federal inspector was in the process of taking a brain sample to test
for the disease but was ordered to stop by the regional headquarters
of the Texas Department of Agriculture. Instead, the cow was sent to
a rendering plant to be made into animal food.
Hot off the Press!
Ronnie Cummins and Ben Lilliston’s top-selling book on Genetically
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Generation to Generation
-a poem by Sandy Spieler
My Grandmother carried a seed in her hair
On a long boat ride
The seed was a gift from the old homeland
For memory and health to survive
A gift for my father, he planted his seed
In his own backyard
With help from the bees, with help from the sun
It grew right up to his
From the best crop he plucked a seed
For me, yes he plucked it for me
Contained in its flesh is the secret of
So ancient and yet so new
This seed I hold is a gift for my boy
So busy-but eat he must
From the ground comes health, from the pulse comes
Light in the flesh strength in the bone
And now for his daughter, this seed is saved
A promise of health for
From her table shared wide with family and friend
This vessel of life
My grandmother carried a seed in her hair
On a long boat ride
My grandmother carried a seed in her hair
In her hair she carried a seed