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Coexistence: La Vida Locavore Defends the OCA

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's All About Organics page, and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

A week or so ago, I wrote about the USDA's recent (but now obsolete) call for coexistence  between farmers growing GE, non-GE, and organic crops. This referred to GE alfalfa, and since then the USDA decided to fully deregulate GE alfalfa, tossing aside any previous calls for coexistence. Since then, two major things have happened. One is an outpouring of anger and a desire for activism from the organic community. The other one is a spat between Organic Consumers Association (an organization with which I am affiliated) and "Big Organic" interests - Whole Foods Market (WFM), Organic Trade Association (OTA), Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm.

It's rare that I'm ever questioned about my affiliation with OCA, but suddenly a few people have come to me asking what's going on. And, so far as I can see it, the "Big Organic" folks named above took a calculated risk, acquiescing to the USDA's call for coexistence, while OCA said "hell no" and then called out the "Big Organic" folks for selling out. (OCA is a lot of things, but subtle is not one of them.) To my mind, this inter-organic fight is now obsolete, as all of us lost. But there are people and egos and tempers within our movement, and of course those who have been offended or publicly called out are not ready to be done with it... and the temptation of juicy gossip has people interested, even if this argument is nothing more than last week's news.

I haven't read every word written or said by OCA's director Ronnie Cummins or by those who oppose him, but I want to explain why I agree with OCA in terms of my position, even if I would perhaps have used different tactics. Let me start with a quote from the book Toxic Sludge is Good For You by John Stauber & Sheldon Rampton, a book that OCA's Ronnie Cummins is no doubt very familiar with.

 In a 1991 speech to the National Cattlemen's Association, he [Ronald Duchin] described how MBD [Duchin's PR firm] works to divide and conquer activist movements. Activists, he explained, fall into four distinct categories: "radicals," "opportunists," "idealists," and "realists." He outlined a three-step strategy: (1) isolate the radicals; (2) "cultivate" the idealists and "educate" them into becoming realists; then (3) coopt the realists into agreeing with industry. - p. 66

In other words, marginalize the so-called radicals (think of PETA) and co-opt everyone else. The book continues:

 Duchin defines opportunists as people who engage in activism seeking "visibility, power, followers, and, perhaps, even employment... The key to dealing with opportunists is to provide them with at least the perception of a partial victory." And realists are able to "live with trade-offs; willing to work within the system; not interested in radical change; pragmatic. The realists should always receive the highest priority in any strategy dealing with a public policy issue... If your industry can successfully bring about these relationships, the credibility of the radicals will be lost and the opportunists can be counted on to share in the final policy solution. - p.67

OCA is not willing to play the part of the realists, like WFM and OTA. They are therefore always going to be challenged to fight for their credibility to avoid marginalization. I have no interest in throwing my time, energy, money, and emotions into a fight just to wind up doing the bidding of industry in the end. That is why I stand behind OCA in calling for true reform, not just a little bit of change at the margins.