FOOD BYTES #10 June 5, 1998
News and Analysis on Genetic Engineering & Factory Farming
by: Ronnie Cummins, Pure Food Campaign & Organic Consumers Association
* Open Letter to U.S. Organic Consumers

* Announcing A New National Activist Organization: The Organic Consumers Association

* 8 Steps to Building An OCA Network in Your Local Area

An Open Letter to U.S. Organic Consumers

by Ronnie Cummins, National Coordinating Committee, Organic Consumers
Association (OCA)

Dear Organic Food Consumer,

Since the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued their controversial
proposed federal regulations on organic food in December 1997, the most
common response from concerned--and often outraged--consumers has been:
"How can we stop them from doing this?" First, we and other groups
recommended that consumers bury the USDA in an avalanche of comments and
turn up the heat on Congress. Much to the surprise and dismay of the
Clinton administration, this is exactly what happened. A record 220,000
consumers sent in letters to the USDA basically calling for these bogus
rules to be withdrawn, and 100,000 people called their Senators and

After swamping the USDA with comments and alerting the Congress that
millions of voters were opposed to the USDA's clumsy attempt to engineer an
"unfriendly takeover" of organics on behalf of the corporate special
interests who dominate industrial agriculture, we and our allies began to
implement the second part of our strategy. We joined up with leading
organic certifiers and organic retailers and began moving toward the
establishment of a set of strict national and internationally recognized
organic standards and labels independent of the USDA. This independent
certification and labeling process is now steadily moving forward with the
support of 27 private and state organic certifiers as well as leading
retail and consumer organizations, both at home and abroad.

Now we stand in the shadow of the USDA's impending Final Rule on organics.
The Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture and the Organic Watch Coalition
have identified no fewer than 60 major problems with the USDA's proposed
federal regulations. On May 8, the USDA announced, with great fanfare, that
they were backing off--at least temporarily--on three of these major
deal-breakers (i.e. including genetic engineering, toxic sewage sludge, and
nuclear irradiation under the "USDA Organic" label). USDA Secretary Dan
Glickman apparently believes that these concessions on the "Big Three" will
pacify us. He is wrong. USDA bureaucrats have admitted publicly that,
despite heavy consumer opposition, they will not withdraw their proposed
regulations. They plan to publish legally-binding proposed final rules in
late-1998 or 1999. This Final Rule will allow large corporate factory farms
to fill up the shelves of mainstream supermarkets with products labeled
"USDA Organic," but of course these so-called "organic" products will be
little different from the "industrial food" now served up by America's food
giants. The Final Rule, the USDA tell us, will be a compromise rule,
something we must swallow for the good of the economy and the bottom line
of the Big Players in the food sector. "Trust us," they say, "we've heard
your comments."

On behalf of organic consumers, our response to the USDA is "No, we do not
trust you." We can only judge the USDA by their concrete actions over the
past few decades, not their rhetoric over the past month. If the USDA
sincerely wants to try to gain the trust of the organic community and the
consumer public at large--something they've never had--there is only one
thing they can do: back off for several years and let the organic community
prove that we can regulate ourselves. Leading organic certifiers have
already agreed that they are willing and able to unite and adopt common
high standards which basically conform with the recommendations of the
National Organic Standards Board and international IFOAM (International
Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) requirements. This is not only
what 90% of consumers want, this is what we demand.

Any Final Rule published by the USDA which gives Washington bureaucrats a
monopoly on the word "organic" is totally unacceptable. Any Final Rule
which prohibits non-governmental organic certifiers and state government
certifiers from labeling according to standards higher than the minimum
standards of the USDA represents a violation of our Constitutional rights
to free speech. Any Final Rule that prohibits producers and certifiers from
utilizing eco-labels that even imply organic production will be vehemently
opposed. As the proposed USDA rules read now, Monsanto, Tyson, Perdue,
Cargill, Kroger, Safeway, McDonald's--any of America's food giants--will
have the legal option to sue any farmer, any co-op, any retailer, or any
processor or handler in court if we certify or label, or even imply in our
advertising, that our products are actually "real organic" products, which
exceed the world's lowest minimum organic requirements, those of the USDA.

In the shadow of the Final Rule, we must get organized. Our firm belief is
that those of us concerned about organics and the politics of our food,
those of us who want to "save organic standards" and "keep organic organic"
must organize ourselves into a mass-based grassroots network and citizens
lobby. For this reason a group of leading consumer and organic advocates
across the country have decided to establish a new activist organization
for organic consumers, the Organic Consumers Association.

To force the USDA to back off and let the organic community regulate itself
under its own internationally recognized rules will require an
unprecedented grassroots mobilization. Thousands of us began this
mobilization process early in 1998 with the launch of local and state SOS
(Save Organic Standards) campaigns. These grassroots SOS efforts sounded
the alarm and provided the initial spark for what then became an
unprecendented national consumer rebellion against the USDA. Now we must
step up our public education and mobilization efforts--before the USDA
proposes its Final Rule. To do this we need your support and participation.
To save organic standards and turn American agriculture around we need to
organize a nationwide Organic Consumers Association (OCA) with chapters in
every state and Congressional District.

Starting with collecting the email addresses, fax numbers, street
addresses, and telephone numbers of people who feel passionately about
organic food issues in hundreds of communities across the country, the
organizers of the OCA have begun to build a sizeable database for two-way
communications and mobilization. Thousands of organic consumers across the
country have already volunteered to participate in the new OCA networks.
Many organic retailers, co-ops, and organic producers have also volunteered
to help. Consumers have begun to volunteer to serve on coordination teams
in their Congressional Districts or states. Enlisting the cooperation of
over 800 natural food co-ops, retail stores, farmers markets, and other
community organizations (holistic health practitioners, community
restaurants, public interest organizations, vegetarian and animal
protection groups, community media, etc.), our growing national network
will soon reach the point where we can rapidly communicate with and
mobilize thousands of people in each state.

These OCA "Grassroots Action" networks (email, world wide web, fax, mail,
and telephone tree networks) will enable us to keep people abreast of the
latest developments, so that when the USDA announces its "proposed Final
Rule" later this year, or next year, we can respond immediately. Once again
thousands of phone calls, letters, faxes, and emails will pour in from all
50 states and 435 Congressional districts and turn up the heat in
Washington. Bolstered as well by other forms of citizen action and
grassroots lobbying, ideally we'll be able to make the USDA and the Clinton
Administration back off from issuing a Final Rule (if not we'll sue them in
federal court). Once we do this we'll be well on the road to achieving the
basic goals of the OCA: to preserve strict organic standards and to move
U.S. agriculture in a more sustainable and humane direction. Ultimately our
goal is to make certain that organic agriculture expands from being a $4
billion dollar industry (representing approximately 1-2% of total U.S.
agriculture production) into becoming the dominant form of producing food
and fiber in the U.S.--and across the world.


So without further delay let's begin building these Organic Consumers
Association networks.
Consumers in dozens of communities have already begun to carry out these
preliminary steps:

(1) Join the OCA and become an official member in your area. We ask for an
annual membership fee of $10-50, depending upon what you can afford. Make
your checks out to the OCA and send them to the address below. As an
official member we'll provide you with regular information on organic
issues (including our forthcoming new publication, The Organic Consumer)
and food politics, put you in touch with hundreds of others in your area or
state who feel the same way that you do, and periodically offer you the
opportunity to engage in collective grassroots action (letter writing,
citizen lobbying, attending public events) with other OCA members and
volunteers in your area and across the country.

(2) In addition to becoming an OCA member, if you are willing to serve on a
volunteer OCA coordination team in your Congressional District or state,
let us know.

(3) Tune into the Pure Food Campaign world wide web site (and the web
sites to which it is linked) on a regular basis for important background
materials as well as breaking news. If you don't have a computer, try to
link up with an OCA member who does. The internet address of the PFC's site

(4) Subscribe and encourage others to subscribe to our free monthly
electronic newsletters, Food Bytes and (soon-to-be-published) The Organic
Consumer. Individuals need only to send an email to:
in the body of the email message simply say:
subscribe pure-food-action

If you don't have access to a computer, and need to have a hard copy of our
newsletters mailed to you, send us an extra $20 a year to cover printing
and postage and we'll mail you Food Bytes. Send an extra $30 and we'll mail
you both Food Bytes and The Organic Consumer.

(5) Circulate Food Bytes, The Organic Consumer, and other materials from
our web site to people who might be interested in being part of a local OCA
information/lobbying/action group. For those interested, write down their
email address or an email address where they can have mail forwarded. If
there's no way to reach them by email, then get their fax number, voice
mail, or snail mail address. Send this information to us at but keep a copy for yourself. Ask us to send you the names
and contact information of others in your area who are already involved in
the OCA campaign.

Every person who joins as a member or volunteer in the OCA network should
be encouraged to start recruiting and signing others up, in effect creating
an ever-expanding network of two-way communications. Let new volunteers
know they'll be receiving regular information on the organic food issue
(and related food issues) and will be asked at strategic moments with
others across the country to either (a) write a short email note or letter
which will go to the USDA, their Congressperson, and perhaps to their state
legislator or local media; (b) make a local or toll-free phone telephone
call to their Congressperson's office; or (c) carry out some other
appropriate action such as calling 5-10 other similarly concerned people on
a local phone tree.

(6) Get natural food co-ops or retail stores and community restaurants to
post sign-up
sheets for your local OCA network. The workers, members, and customers in
these retail stores and restaurants are certainly some of our best
potential recruits. When it comes time to lobby the USDA during the "Final
comment period" on National Organic Standards, some stores will be willing
to have their customers write letters, send emails, or make toll-free
telephone calls right from the stores. Follow the same procedure with
community-oriented holistic health practitioners, neighborhood health
clinics, farmers markets, environmental groups, or other institutions
willing to get involved.

(7) Once you've collected a hundred or so names of OCA supporters, we will
help you put together a communications or action alert "circuit" with email
and local faxes as the backbone circuit, and local fax and telephone trees
completing the network. Arrange your OCA Action Network so that no one has
to call or fax more than 5 people at a time. You might want to use this
network to announce a social gathering, an organic foods potluck, or some
other event so that area OCA members and volunteers can get to know each
other and build up a sense of trust and cooperation. Don't overload people
with information and don't ask them to do more than they can do, but keep
building up your contact lists and solidifying your relationship with local
natural food stores and community institutions.

Don't get discouraged if this all takes a while. On the other hand, keep in
mind that to turn our country's food policies around completely we
ultimately need 5,000 OCA members and supporters in each Congressional
district (each Congressional district has approximately 500,000 residents)
so that at any given moment we can generate 500 calls or letters at a
"response rate" of 10%.

(8) When you run into difficulties or need some advice or coaching feel
free to call us on the telephone (Beginning June 9, 1998) at 218-226-4792
or send us an email at:

Together We Can Save Organic Standards! Join the OCA ( Organic Consumers
Organic Consumers Association
175 County Road 6
Finland, Minnesota 55603
Call or Fax Us Beginning June 9, 1998 at:
Tel. 218-226-4792 Fax 218-226-4157

Organic Consumers Association
6101 Cliff Estate Rd., Little Marais, Minnesota 55614
Activist or Media Inquiries: (218) 226-4164,  Fax: (218) 226-4157
Ronnie Cummins E-mail:

Save Organic Standards -- Break Corporate Control -- Genetically Enginered Food -- Toxic Food
Current Alert/Upcoming Events -- Food Slander-- Food Irradiation -- Mad Cow & Pig Disease
Cloning & Patenting -- rBGH -- Links -- Legislation

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