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Ronnie Cummins: Stop the Corporate Attacks on Organic Standards

Organic standards are under assault once again.  A sneak attack in Congress in October 2005 potentially opened the door for hundreds of synthetic substances to be used in processed organic foods, without proper scientific review by the organic community. Recent attempts, partly successful, have been made to pack the National Organic Standards Board, the organic community's traditional watchdog over organic standards, with food industry and agribusiness bureaucrats. Brand name companies are outsourcing more and more cheap, and often dubious, organic products from nations such as China, while refusing to divulge the "country of origin" on their product labels, even though these same foods and ingredients could and should be produced by organic farmers in the USA and North America. At the same time, "genetic pollution" in the fields and on grocery shelves is increasing, with genetically engineered crops--especially corn, soybeans, and canola the FDA and Congress have ignored repeated calls from the public and our overseas customers for mandatory labeling and safety testing of genetically engineered foods.

And now, adding insult to injury, so-called organic dairy "industry leaders," including Horizon Organic (a subsidiary of Dean Foods) and Aurora Organic, who control 65% of the market, have been exposed for routinely importing calves from conventional dairy farms, where the animals typically have been weaned on blood plasma, fed genetically engineered feed, slaughterhouse waste, and poultry manure, and injected or treated with antibiotics. Once in the dairy feedlot, the lactating dairy cows are then kept in intensive confinement, with little or no access to pasture. After certification by industry-friendly certifiers such as QAI, and state organic certification agencies such as Colorado, these companies are then selling their dairy products as │organic▓ to retailers, including large chains such as Wal-Mart, Costco, Safeway, Giant, and Wild Oats. http://www.organicconsumers.org/organic/corrupt060323.cfm

Confronted with these criticisms, companies like Horizon or Aurora flatly deny there╣s a problem, but then refuse to divulge truthful information, either to the media, industry researchers, or even to their own investors. Other apologists for factory farm dairy practices, such as the Organic Trade Association (whose past and present Board members include representatives of Horizon, Aurora, and QAI) or Wild Oats, admit that intensive confinement is necessary to make up for the lack of supply of organic milk.

Only by joining together with other organic consumers, voting with our consumer dollars in the marketplace, and putting pressure on Congress and the USDA, can organic consumers continue to safeguard organic standards. Over the past eight years, we have successfully stopped industry efforts to allow controversial and hazardous industrial farm practices in organics it's time to take action again.

The good news is that 50 million organic consumers in North America are buying so much organic food that serious shortages are developing, especially in the dairy, meat, and citrus sectors. More good news is that the overwhelming majority of family scale organic farmers and retailers in the U.S. (including dairy farmers) are adhering to strict organic standards and ethical practices. On the other hand, the bad news is that, instead of lobbying and persuading Congress to allocate subsidies to help thousands of struggling American family farmers and ranchers make the difficult but necessary transition to organic, and thereby meeting the booming demand for organics, big corporate players, aided and abetted by the USDA and the Organic Trade Association, are allowing industrial factory farm practices to creep into organic production.

With a yearly budget of more than $90 billion coming from our public taxes, the USDA still stubbornly refuses to allocate anything more than crumbs ($10 million annually) to organics, while handing out billions ($20 billion annually) in pork-barrel subsidies to industrial agribusiness and producers of genetically engineered crops. To safeguard organic standards and to generate an adequate supply of USA-produced organic products, USDA policies and subsidies must be fundamentally reformed.

According to research carried out by the organic watchdog group, Cornucopia Institute, up to 40% of all milk labeled as "USDA Organic" in the United States today is coming from intensive confinement dairy feedlots.

Unless consumers take decisive action now, both in the marketplace and in the arena of public policy, bottom-line corporations such as Dean Foods, Wal-Mart, and Kraft will soon be completely dictating what "organic" means.

Our goal over the next few weeks is to turn up the heat on some of the "Organic Imposters" (Horizon, Aurora, Wal-Mart, Costco, Safeway, Giant, Wild Oats), who are facilitating the outrageous practice of labeling factory farm style dairy production as "organic." We must put the organic industry on notice that we will be boycotting the brand names and the retailers who dare to blatantly violate organic standards. At the same time we will be launching a "buycott" to encourage consumers to patronize the brands and retailers who are doing the right thing.

Our goal is to get hundreds of thousand of organic consumers over the coming months to send letters to the USDA National Organic Program and to Congress.

In the long run we must safeguard organic standards by getting several hundred members of Congress to join the Organic Caucus (which now has over 40 members in the House), and to support changes in the 2007 Farm Bill to provide significant subsidies to help tens of thousands of U.S. farmers make the transition to organic. But in the meantime we must turn up the heat and punish the Organic Imposters who are undermining organic integrity.