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Organic Trade Association--Now a Corporate-Dominated Lobby Group--Attacks Organic Watchdog


From <

Contact: Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042

Corporate-Dominated Lobby Group Attacks Organic Watchdog

CORNUCOPIA: The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is seeking to suppress the
release of a new report rating the nation's organic dairy brands and
products. The report will soon by issued by The Cornucopia Institute, an
agricultural policy research group that supports family-scale farmers.

The OTA's "campaign of intimidation" comes less than six months after the
organic business group was widely condemned for orchestrating a secret,
back-door deal in Congress that was viewed by many in the organic community
as weakening federal organic regulations to the benefit of large
corporations. Now OTA has once again exposed themselves to widespread
criticism by attacking one of the nation's preeminent corporate and
governmental watchdogs that is protecting organic food and farming.

The report, according to The Cornucopia Institute, is designed to "empower
consumers and wholesale buyers in the marketplace" by rating organic dairy
brands based on their adherence to accepted ethical practices and conduct.

Last week the OTA sent a special letter to members of The Cornucopia
Institute's Board of Directors attempting to convince them to not release the
dairy products rating report. The letter suggested that the report--which
the OTA has not seen--will sow a seed of "distrust in organic farming and
organic products" and noted that OTA is "opposed to tactics that cast doubt on
the work of certified organic farms." After the OTA sent their letter to the
Cornucopia Board, they then released the letter to the public and strategic
calls have been placed to the news media in an effort to discredit the
Institute's work.

"This report is a by-product of a five-year controversy that has been
smoldering within the organic industry," according to Mark A. Kastel, Senior
Farm Policy Analyst for the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute. Since the
late 1990s a handful of large industrial-scale dairy operations, with
2000-6000 animals in factory-farm conditions, have started producing milk
sold as "organic." Among other serious breaches these dairies are accused of
is confining their animals rather than grazing on pasture.

"Even though there have been numerous meetings and thousands of letters and
e-mails from organic farmers and consumers requesting that the United States
Department of Agriculture clamp down on these factory farms, as well as
surveys indicating overwhelming support from organic dairy farmers for
enforcement actions against those who are scoffing at federal organic law,
the USDA have done nothing to date," said Helen Keyes, a Cornucopia board
member and certified organic livestock producer. "This puts ethical organic
farmers at a competitive disadvantage."

The Cornucopia Institute has said that although they will continue to work
with the USDA, they are "appealing to a higher authority"-the organic
consumer. According to Kastel, "One way that many organic consumers justify
the higher prices for organic food is their support for a more ecological
farming model, more humane animal husbandry practices, and a social/economic
justice movement that supports family-scale farmers. We hope this report,
and our Web-based rating tool, will help organic consumers to 'vote in the
marketplace' for brands that truly represent organic ethics, not just
marketing hype."

The Organic Trade Association started as an industry umbrella group that
originally included farmer and consumer members in addition to manufacturers.
However, since hiring high-powered lobbyists in Washington and raising their
lowest dues levels to $300 (larger corporations contribute tens of thousands
of dollars), many of their smaller long-time members have been forced out,
and the association is now dominated by major agribusiness corporations that
have purchased familiar organic name brands in their bid to capture a piece
of the rapidly growing organic food market.

"Since their backroom dealings in Washington became public last fall, a
number of OTA's former business members have joined The Cornucopia
Institute," said Meg Hannah, the Cornucopia's President. "Our new business
members join with over 500 individual members, mostly farmers, who understand
that the economic health of the organic marketplace depends on maintaining
high organic integrity," Hannah added. "Don't these large corporations and
their lobbyists understand that playing "fast and loose" with the organic
standards has the potential to kill the golden goose"?

At least two powerful OTA members, Dean Foods and the Aurora Organic Dairy,
have been the subject of a series of legal complaints concerning livestock
management practices on the huge factory farms they operate. Dean Foods now
owns the Horizon brand of organic milk, and Aurora packages private label
milk for chains such as Costco, Safeway, and Wild Oats.

"After some delay we are pleased that the USDA is now investigating, in
earnest, at least two of the four complaints we have filed against these
large industrial dairies that are 'gaming the system,' said Kastel.

"Although we are still considering taking legal action forcing the USDA to
investigate all complaints against these suspect organic farms, our
forthcoming report will help consumers reward the true heroes of organic
farming, in the marketplace, with its information detailing the ethical
practices of all organic dairy marketers."

The good news contained in Cornucopia's report is that the group's research
indicates that the vast majority of organic dairy brands contain milk from
family-sized farms that share the consumer's conviction that organic
agriculture is about more than marketing hype.

"The organic marketplace wasn't built by lobbyists and trade groups, it was
built through a loving collaboration between organic farmers and consumers
who truly respect their hard work," Kastel stated. "I'm happy to confirm
that the majority of organic products are of high integrity, and working
together, the organic community will succeed in maintaining more than just
the business value of organically produced food."

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The Cornucopia Institute is a farm policy research group, based in
Cornucopia, Wisconsin. Its mission is dedicated to promoting economic
justice for family-scale farmers and ranchers. To learn more about the
Cornucopia Institute, visit <
or call 608-625-2042