“Cook Organic, not the Planet.” - Banner of the Organic Consumers Association at the mass climate march in New York City, September 21, 2014.
Before we talk about the future of food and farming and the crisis of organic standards, here’s some good news: Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), a leading contender for the White House in 2020, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and several other presidential candidates have just come out strongly against Monsanto and factory farming and in favor of fundamental change in our agricultural policies. (Sign this petition to thank Sanders and Warren for taking on Big Ag).
Sanders and more than 100 members of Congress, supported by millions of Americans--including leading farmers and ranchers— are now calling for a Green New Deal that encompasses both urban and rural America. A Green New Deal that will scale up fundamental change, not only in our energy and economic policies, but also in the food and farming policies that have devastated our landscape, public health and rural communities.
Consumer demand behind growth of organic market
In December 1997, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) launched a nationwide grassroots campaign called Save Organic Standards (SOS). Over the course of the next six months, OCA and our allies in the organic community successfully mobilized hundreds of thousands of organic consumers, farmers and retailers to stop the Clinton Administration, Monsanto and corporate agribusiness from degrading organic standards and allowing GMOs, irradiated food and sewage sludge to be used in organic farming.
Since the first SOS battle, despite pro-agribusiness, pro-GMO, pro-factory farm policies and appointments by corporate Democrats (Clinton and Obama) and reactionary Republicans alike (Bush Sr., Bush Jr. and Trump), we’ve managed to expose the horrors of chemical- and fossil fuel-intensive food and farming, factory farms, GMOs and Monsanto, and to promote organic, grass-fed, agroecolgical and, more recently, regenerative practices. We’ve grown the U.S. market for certified organic food from a $3-billion niche market in 1997 to a $50-billion+ powerhouse today, and increased market demand for climate-friendly grass-fed and pastured meat, dairy and poultry.
According to numerous polls and focus groups, we’ve convinced the majority of U.S. food consumers, from all income categories, that organic, non-GMO, grass-fed, pastured, non-factory farmed products are better for your health, better for the environment, better for the climate, more equitable for farmers, ranchers and farmworkers, and more humane for animals. We’ve exposed the dangers of pesticides like Roundup, atrazine, and chlorpyrifos, and the damage to bees and other pollinators from neonicotinoids.
We’ve alerted the public about the hazards of artificial hormones and antibiotics in animal feed, meat and dairy, and educated consumers and parents about the damage of excessive sugar, bad fats and synthetic chemicals in conventional food.
Congratulations to conscientious consumers, chefs, restaurant workers, green retailers, ethical brands, food producers and activists. Seven percent of baby boomers and 20 percent of millennials now say they buy organic products “all the time” while the majority of Americans claim to buy organics occasionally. Millions more say they would buy organic, healthier, environmentally friendly products more frequently, if only they could afford to spend more for food, instead living from paycheck to paycheck, struggling to cover rent, mortgage payments, childcare, credit card and student loan debt, healthcare, utilities and transportation.
Climate activists connecting the dots between ag policy and global warming
A new Regeneration Movement, described by many as the next stage of organics and agroecology, has connected the dots between our toxic food system and global warming, pointing out that industrial food, farming and land management, when you look at its total carbon footprint, generates a full 44-57 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions.
The degenerate food, farming and land-use practices responsible for half of our climate-destabilizing emissions today include the massive use of fossil fuels and toxic, soil-killing, environmentally polluting chemicals in agriculture. These on-farm and farm input emissions are compounded by energy-intensive and wasteful food processing and packaging (including massive amounts of plastic), long-distance transportation of foods, the concentration and confinement of billions of animals and their wastes in feedlots and factory farms, the dumping of rotting food waste and other organic garbage into landfills instead of composting it, and the throwing away of 30-50 percent of all the food we produce. These profit-at-any-cost practices are amplified by destructive land use: cutting down forests, draining wetlands, degrading marine eco-systems, destructively tilling the soil, spraying soil-killing pesticides and dumping chemical fertilizers on the land, and plowing up grasslands and native prairie for GMO and monoculture crops and ethanol. These climate-destabilizing activities degrade the natural ability of plants, pasture, rangeland, wetlands and trees to draw down enough CO2 from the atmosphere (via photosynthesis) to keep the soil, atmosphere, ocean, carbon and hydrological cycles in balance.
So don’t believe it when you read that the carbon footprint of American food and farming is 11 percent or 15 percent, or even 30 percent of U.S. emissions. Our degenerative, corporate-driven food, farming and land-use practices are responsible for half or more of our GHG pollution.
Food & farming policy lags consumer and public awareness
Unfortunately, the alternative food movement’s impact on consumer awareness has not made much of a difference in terms of federal, state and local food and farm policy and spending. There continues to be little or no financial support for organic or regenerative practices, as opposed to billions to prop up the status quo. Instead of regenerative and potentially regenerative family farms, federal policy subsidizes the Poison Cartel, corporate agribusiness, factory farms and Big Box retailers. While large chemical and agribusiness corporations make out like bandits, billions of tons of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide still belch forth from our food factories, GMO mono-crops, agro-exports, long-distance supply chain, and factory farms.
Despite all our efforts over decades, organic, locally produced and agro-ecological products still make up less than 10 percent of U.S. food sales. Meanwhile organic standards have been steadily undermined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) corporate-friendly National Organic Program (NOP)—allowing factory-farmed, intensive-confinement dairy and poultry operations and non-soil hydroponic production to be certified as USDA Organic, and allowing a growing number of synthetic ingredients and fraudulent foreign imports to be used in organic production.
We need a ballot-box revolution in 2020
Our contemporary renewable energy and food system, though growing rapidly, is still a niche market. Public health (both mental and physical), biodiversity and the life-support capacities of our environment are deteriorating. Trillion-dollar wars for natural resources, markets and geo-political dominance are still considered “normal.”
Lobbying the USDA-appointed National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and the NOP to back off on degrading organic standards is still important work, but it’s not enough. Voting individually with our food dollars and our knives and forks for organic and regenerative products is not enough. Sending petitions and emails to corrupt corporations or indentured politicians and regulatory officials is not enough.
We need to move beyond mourning the degradation of organic standards and all the other burning single issues that we care most about and get organized. We need to take control of our lives, our health, our communities and most of all our political institutions. Spaceship Earth is on fire, and we need all hands on deck.
It’s time for food and farm activists, conscientious consumers and the rest of the body politic, to wake up and get organized. America and the global food and farm movement need to move beyond defensive single-issue campaigning and boldly challenge the entire system of industrial agriculture, junk food, ethanol production, factory farming, ecosystem destruction and deforestation. We need to educate people to understand that industrial food and farming, GMOs, destructive deforestation and land use and mindless consumerism are major, not minor causes of global warming and climate destabilization. A slightly higher percentage of market share for organic, GMO-free or even regenerative organic food on a burnt planet in 2030 or 2050 is not going to save us.
We need a Ballot Box Revolution in 2020, with a new President, Senate and House majority who understand that solving the climate emergency is the world’s number one priority. We need a new government on all levels, including a new USDA Secretary of Agriculture, who understands that organic and regenerative food, farming and land use are not just desirable, but absolutely essential.
In the Presidential election cycle of 2016, and the Congressional races in 2018, there was little or no discussion about our disastrous food and farming policies and the damage they inflict on human health, the environment, rural communities, farm workers and the climate. Fortunately, this is starting to change. A growing number of leading 2020 Presidential contenders are speaking up about the need for a Green New Deal for both urban and rural America. New Congressional political leaders such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are finally calling for System Change, not just minor change, and are pointing out that regenerative agriculture is an important part of the Green New Deal that we so desperately need.
Everyone needs to get involved in this battle for a better future. If you’re a farmer or rancher, please sign this petition. If you’re a concerned consumer and citizen, please sign here to join the growing U.S. and global movement for a Green New Deal.