A publication of the Organic Consumers Association
Membership Update - Spring 2004

from Degrading Organic Standards

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and the organic community won a major victory on May 26, when the US Department of Agriculture reversed themselves and announced they were suspending controversial changes in organic standards proposed in April 2004. These changes would have allowed the use of previously banned pesticides, antibiotics, animal drugs, growth hormones, and non-organic animal feed on organic farms. Proposed changes also would have formally suspended USDA monitoring and policing of organic label claims on non-food products, opening the door for unscrupulous companies to put bogus organic labels on products such as fish, body care products, pet foods, vitamins, fertilizer, and clothing.

In the case of seafood and body care products, the marketplace is already starting to become flooded with products bearing the organic label, even though the production methods (industrial fish farms) or content (“organic” shampoos with organic claims based upon added water) in many of these products violate traditional organic principles. Besides giving the green light to bogus organic labels, the recent policy changes proposed by the USDA would have penalized genuine organic companies that have begun sourcing, certifying, and labeling their products as organic.

Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman’s surrender came in the wake of a major nationwide mobilization and media campaign spearheaded by the OCA and its allies. OCA was joined in this effort by nearly the entire public interest and organic community, including the Consumers Union, the Organic Trade Association, organic farmers, organic businesses, certifiers, and the National Organic Standards Board. As the USDA bureaucrats were flooded with calls and faxes from irate consumers, as public interest attorneys prepared to file a lawsuit, and as mass media coverage of the controversy began spreading, the Bush administration apparently decided that they already had enough problems on their hands in this election year.

While the OCA mobilized its nationwide network, organic businesses were gearing up for a lawsuit against the USDA. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, a leading manufacturer of organic and natural body care products, published an open letter to the Organic Trade Association saying that it would pay for all legal costs associated with a lawsuit against the USDA. David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner’s, said, “Non-food agricultural products can support organic agriculture and processing just as much as organic food products do. Taking away the opportunity to certify non-food products under the NOP would have been an enormous disincentive to non-food industries to source from and support organic agriculture.”

OCA warns however, that we must remain vigilant. The campaign to Safeguard Organic Standards must continue. Corporate agribusiness and the biotech lobby have decided that strict organic farming practices and the booming organic market constitute a threat to their bottom line. They will continue to call on their friends in Washington to degrade organic standards and prepare for a gradual takeover of the organic market by factory-style industrial farms and transnational food corporations. Six years ago, as you probably remember, the Clinton administration USDA tried to do the same thing, proposing that genetic engineering, food irradiation, and the use of sewage sludge be allowed on organic farms. Only after an unprecedented nationwide consumer backlash by the entire organic community, led by the OCA, did the USDA back off on these proposals. Last year, a similar attempt to allow non-organic feed to be fed to animals on organic farms was also defeated.

Congratulations to everyone who helped spread the alarm about this latest attack on organic standards. A sincere thanks to those who responded to our Action Alert, and to those who gave donations to the OCA to help us carry on our work. The next step involves “regime change” in Washington and the USDA—pressuring politicians to stop putting $20-30 billion dollars of our federal tax money every year into subsidizing genetically engineered crops, chemical intensive agriculture, and factory farms, and instead to subsidize family farms so they can make the long overdue transition to sustainable and organic farming practices. The next 2007 Farm Bill must cut off destructive subsidies for export crops such as genetically engineered and pesticide-intensive cotton, and help tens of thousands of family farmers and ranchers make the transition to organic. We must also make sure that future congressional bills include adequate funding for the National Organic Standards Board and the National Organic Program, so that these bodies can properly monitor and enforce the integrity of organic label claims in the marketplace.

A Message from the Director

Spring greetings from the Organic Consumers Association. As I write this letter, I have just returned from an inspiring week of meeting with activists and OCA supporters in California, where the movement against GE foods and industrial agriculture has reached a new level of effectiveness. Ever since last December, when the Mad Cow crisis burst into the headlines and reminded Americans that our industrial-style food system is out of control, and March 2, when Mendocino County, California residents successfully won a David versus Goliath battle against Monsanto and became the first county in America to ban GE crops and animals, long dormant seeds of resistance have begun sprouting. After several decades of hard work, public education, and what, at times, seemed like beating our heads against the wall, the organic consumer community has blossomed into a major force for progressive change. Millions of Americans are developing what can only be described as an appetite for change. Consumers and youth nationwide are waking up to the fact that our health and environment are under assault, that we are being adversely affected by what we eat, wear, and use on our bodies, and are realizing it’s time for a “regime change,” both in the marketplace and in the realm of public policy. As more and more people like yourself vote with their consumer dollars for health and sustainability, organics and Fair Trade are booming, providing a beacon of hope, which we call BioDemocracy.

Underlining the need for “regime change” in Washington, on April 14 and 28, the USDA announced startling changes in National Organic Standards—changes that, if implemented, would have seriously degraded traditional organic standards and facilitated the “takeover” of the organic market by industrial agribusiness. Thanks to a nationwide mobilization by the OCA and complaints from the entire organic community, the USDA announced on May 26, that they were backing off on these proposed changes and would henceforth listen more closely to the organic community. The USDA’s quick turnaround on this issue provides further evidence of the growing strength of the OCA and the nation’s 30 million organic consumers.

The OCA is growing by leaps and bounds. We now have over 600,000 organic consumers in our network, and 125,000 regular subscribers on our email list. At least 300,000 people a month visit our website, including leading activists and journalists. Over the summer we’re rolling out a nationwide campaign called Organic Consumers United, setting up literature, petition, and voter registration tables in front of natural food stores, farmers markets, and college campuses. Eventually we’ll be organizing “Meet-Ups” and film screenings in your local community. Of course to do all this requires volunteers and money. If you haven’t already, please click here to send us a donation. And thank you so much for your previous financial support and volunteer efforts.

Regards & Solidarity,
Ronnie Cummins

OCA Pushing for Strict Organic Body Care Standards

OCA’s Coming Clean Campaign has been successfully pressuring the natural body care industry over the past year in an effort to establish strict production and labeling standards for organic cosmetics. A recent victory came when the Organic Trade Association’s Personal Care Task Force (PCTF) in March rejected a scheme of counting ordinary water as organic in body care products. In a 13-2 vote at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California, the task force of natural body care companies condemned the practice of counting as organic the water added during the steaming of botanicals to make the hydrosol water extracts in shampoos, conditioners, and other products.

The PCTF is currently discussing what other ingredients should and should not be allowed in organic body care products. The OCA is pushing for food grade or near-food grade standards for organic body care products, given that our skin absorbs and reacts to body care products in a manner similar to our body’s intake of foods. For this reason, OCA believes that synthetic preservatives like parabens, (suspected carcinogens) should not be allowed in body care products labeled as organic, nor should any petroleum-based ingredients. Unfortunately, some of the companies in the PCTF are currently leaning towards allowing certain synthetic chemicals under the organic label. These synthetic ingredients are commonly found in many leading “natural” body care brands. These shampoos, skin creams, cosmetics, and conditioners, prominently displayed in natural food stores, are misleading consumers by using the word “organic” on their labels, when, in fact, an examination of the specific ingredients on their back panels reveal that they contain many of the same toxic or problematic ingredients found in mainstream cosmetics. Genuine organic body care companies, such as Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Vermont Soapworks, or Terressentials have consistently supported the OCA in calling for an end to this practice.

As evidenced by the USDA’s recent, fortunately failed, attempt to abdicate responsibility for monitoring and policing organic label claims on body care products, the struggle to achieve strict organic standards in this sector will not be easy.

Establishing strict food grade or near-food grade consumer-friendly organic standards for cosmetics will mean little if companies are allowed to defraud consumers by calling their body care products organic, when they are not. While taking legal and political action to force the USDA to agree to once again monitor and police organic labels on a broad range of products, including body care products, OCA is determined to put an end to fraudulent labeling in the marketplace, whether it means filing litigation against offending companies, and/or working with conscientious companies and certifiers to establish an organic label for body care products that consumers can trust. In short, OCA’s Coming Clean Campaign is moving forward. Stay tuned to our website and newsletters for further developments and Action Alerts.

Spreading GE-Free Zones Throughout the Americas

We stand at a crossroads in modern history: Biodemocracy or Biotechnology. Although organic and sustainable farming is the fastest growing component of world agriculture, 150 million acres of GE crops are planted across the US, Canada, Argentina, and China. Since their commercial introduction almost 10 years ago, studies have shown that GE crops and animal drugs are damaging public health, polluting the environment, contaminating organic crops, and steadily turning the world’s 2.4 billion farmers and rural villagers into bioserfs. Despite a global propaganda barrage by Monsanto and the other Gene Giants (“GE crops will feed the world,” “GE crops use less toxic pesticides”), despite denial of consumers’ demands for labeling and testing of GMOs, despite attempts to dump GE-tainted corn and soybeans on impoverished nations, despite widespread intimidation of critics, Frankencrops are dying on the vine.

Biodemocracy is spreading. Activists, farmers, and concerned consumers around the world have been inspired and energized by the historic vote in Mendocino County, California on March 2, 2004 banning the production of GE crops and animals in that county. Mendocino, following the example of GE-Free Zones in Europe, is the first of the nation’s 3300 counties to implement such a ban. Mendocino residents voted for the GE ban despite the biotech industry’s outrageous $700,000 disinformation campaign.

Inspired by the Mendocino vote, local farmers, organic consumers and grassroots activists in at least 12 of California’s 59 counties are organizing ballot initiatives and petition drives for local GE-Free zones. Creation of additional GE-Free zones in California, the nation’s most important agricultural state, coupled with the expansion of the organic foods market, could mark the beginning of the end for agricultural biotechnology and industrial agriculture in the US.

In Pennsylvania, more than 50 townships have passed ordinances that regulate the expansion of local factory farms.
As in California, the state Farm Bureau and biotech interests are teaming up to implement legislation that would make it illegal for communities to have this kind of local control.

In Vermont, grassroots activists have been successful in passing a “Farmer’s Right to Know” bill that requires labeling of GE seeds in all retail outlets. Finally, as a result of a truly international grassroots effort, Monsanto has shelved plans to introduce its controversial genetically engineered Roundup Ready wheat.

From Canada to Brazil, farmers, consumers, and activists are creating GE-Free zones across the Americas. The latest to join the Biodemocracy movement is Venezuela, with President Hugo Chavez announcing the first national GE-Free zone in the Western Hemisphere. This terminates Monsanto’s plans for 500,000 acres of GE soy in Venezuela. Venezuelans join the Landless Workers Movement (MST) of Brazil and the Zapatistas of Chiapas in reclaiming local communities’ right to safe food and locally based sustainable agriculture.

The Mendocino victory poses a serious threat to Monsanto and the other Gene Giants. The biotech industry fears that grassroots activists across the US and Canada will now follow Mendocino’s example. As Allan Noe, vice-president of CropLife America, a front group representing Monsanto, Bayer, Dow, Dupont, and Syngenta stated, “We don’t want to see this pick up any steam. The activist community is well-known for championing causes and for going all out to fuel their beliefs.” Currently, plans are afoot in the California state legislature to overturn Mendocino’s victory and deny counties the right to legislate bans on GMO crops. Since March, biotech and agribusiness interests have been lobbying key members of the state legislature to introduce a bill to overturn Mendocino’s GE ban, and to prohibit other California counties from enacting similar bans. GE-Free Zones present a major roadblock to Monsanto, Bayer, and other biotech companies’ plans to plant controversial GE crops such as Bayer’s Liberty Link rice and Monsanto’s GE alfalfa in California.

In response, the OCA and its allies are mounting an enormous campaign to defend Mendocino’s Measure H, as well as to spread BioDemocracy throughout the Americas. The campaign includes education and outreach efforts, grassroots lobbying, and local-to-international network building.

OCA believes, despite industry propaganda, the tide has turned. The people of the world are not willing to turn over their food and farm sovereignty to a handful of transnational agribusiness corporations and biotechnocrats. We are moving into the age of Biodemocracy, where organic and sustainable farming, and a global system of Fair Trade, will become the norm.

Millions Against Monsanto

In February, 2004, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) launched its Millions Against Monsanto campaign to mobilize one million consumers to end Monsanto’s global corporate terrorism. Since then, concerned consumers all over the world have joined the campaign by signing the online petition, volunteering their time, and/or donating to the OCA’s work. Here’s an update on Monsanto’s recent activities around the world:

North America · Monsanto has been forced to shelve plans to introduce its controversial genetically engineered (GE) Roundup Ready wheat. This is a bitter defeat for Monsanto and a well-deserved victory for family farmers and consumers.

Canada · On May 21, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled in the Percy Schmeiser case that Monsanto owns the seeds of all farmers whose crops test positive for patented GMOs—even if the farmers never purchased the gene-altered seeds. The verdict has enraged farmers and consumers worldwide, and opens up Monsanto for liability damages in a class-action lawsuit by 1000 organic farmers in Canada.

Africa · Monsanto has withdrawn attempts to release a GE sweet potato that the company has been working on for three years, given embarrassing studies showing conventionally grown potatoes resist viruses just as adequately and have a higher yield.

Brazil · The International People’s Tribunal has found Monsanto guilty of illegally spreading GE soybeans in Brazil. Although the crop is banned in the country, much of soya grown in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul is genetically modified.

Australia · After six years of efforts to push GE canola on Australian farmers, Monsanto is being forced to admit failure, since most Australian States have now banned the experimental crop.

Argentina · Monsanto has announced it will stop selling genetically engineered soybean seeds, due to the company’s inability to make a profit on the product.

Indonesia · An investigation is underway regarding an alleged $50,000 bribe Monsanto gave to an Indonesian government official to overlook compliance issues the corporation has been having in the country. Also in Indonesia, Monsanto has been forced to stop selling GE cotton, due to farmers complaining about two years of overpriced seeds and low yields.

Austria · An Austrian facility producing Monsanto’s Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) was found to be contaminated, forcing Monsanto to reduce its production of the drug by 50%. Due to human and animal health risks, the genetically engineered hormone is banned in every industrialized nation other than the US, Mexico, and Brazil.

India · Monsanto is being accused of biopiracy as the company recently acquired patents and exclusive rights to a type of wheat that Indian farmers have bred for generations. With patents in hand, Monsanto now has the legal right to charge people for using this popular wheat, which is used to make chapatti, the flat bread staple of Northern India.

Vietnam · Thirty years after the Vietnam war, Monsanto’s deadly Agent Orange is still causing severe birth defects. Although the company initially claimed the chemical would breakdown and dissipate over a short time, toxic levels of Agent Orange in the environment continue to plague the Vietnamese, who are once again unsuccessfully seeking supplementary funding from the US to treat the steadily increasing number of deformed children. Although Monsanto makes $5 billion/year, the corporation continues to avoid all financial responsibility by claiming the chemical is not toxic.

Take Action! Join OCA’s Millions Against Monsanto Campaign!

The End of Massive Cotton Subsidies?

In a late April landmark ruling, the World Trade Organization (WTO) supported a Brazilian complaint against the US regarding massive cotton subsidies in wealthy nations to corporate agribusiness. The US subsidizes large cotton plantations with $3 billion of taxpayer money each year (note: $3 billion per year is enough money to provide health insurance for over half of the nation’s uninsured children). These subsidies have lowered the world price of cotton by 40%, and have driven 15 million cotton farmers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America into desperate poverty. The WTO has now ruled that these subsidies are illegal impediments to free trade. The WTO decision will likely lead to similar lawsuits from other cotton exporting countries. President Bush has vowed to appeal.

Bush Stopping Protection of Ozone Layer

George W. Bush has shocked the world (again) by threatening to pull out of the most significant international environmental treaty ever signed. The Montreal Protocol of 1987 was a global agreement to phase out the use of chemicals that cause the depletion of the ozone layer. Although every industrialized nation in the world has been working for over a decade under this treaty to protect the ozone layer, President Bush wants out.

Bush claims the US strawberry and tomato agriculture industry should be able to continue using the pesticide methyl bromide, the most dangerous ozone depleting chemical in use. Interestingly enough, the majority of growers who would benefit from this violation of international treaty are in California and Florida, critical electoral states in the coming election.

OCA Introduces Organic Coupon Collection

The OCA is publishing a Coupon Book to raise money for our nationwide network building efforts and campaign to spread GE-Free Zones throughout the Americas. The book calls attention to some of the best organic and Fair Trade companies in North America. Because the books will be distributed nationwide, only nationally distributed products are being featured. Of course, OCA always encourages support of local and regional farmers and businesses as well.

Sometimes it’s hard to know which companies are just “greenwashing,” riding the organic wave, and which are responsible companies with genuine organic values and practices. The discount coupons in this book represent a select number of companies that we can stand behind.

Please consider supporting the OCA’s crucial work by ordering one or more of these Organic Coupon Collection books and sample the products of some of America’s best Organic and Fair Trade companies. Click here for ordering information, or to learn more about the Coupon Collection.

Mad Cow Updates

The US Government is under criminal investigation for allegedly falsifying documents pertaining to the recent case of Mad Cow Disease in Washington state. Specifically, the USDA reported that the beef that tested positive for the disease came from a “downer” cow (a cow too ill to walk). In actuality, three key eye-witnesses at the slaughterhouse say the cow was walking and appeared to be healthy. The US Government used the documents to alleviate concerns that cattle are not tested sufficiently for this deadly disease in the US.

The USDA also attempted to appease domestic and international consumer concerns by announcing wider testing for Mad Cow and new stricter regulations on the feeding of blood, slaughterhouse waste, and manure to animals, hoping this would reduce the potential spread of the fatal disease. However, these rules are still not implemented, six moths after the USDA announced its new policies.

In other Mad Cow news, pressure is mounting for a federal investigation into a possible second case of Mad Cow Disease in San Angelo, Texas. In April 2004, a cow staggered and collapsed at the Lone Star Beef slaughterhouse, and under federal law should have been tested for the deadly disease. A federal inspector was in the process of taking a brain sample to test for the disease but was ordered to stop by the regional headquarters of the Texas Department of Agriculture. Instead, the cow was sent to a rendering plant to be made into animal food.

Hot off the Press!

Ronnie Cummins and Ben Lilliston’s top-selling book on Genetically Engineered Food. Completely revised and updated 2004 addition. Copies can be ordered from this link. $17.95 includes shipping & handling.

Generation to Generation

 -a poem by Sandy Spieler

My Grandmother carried a seed in her hair
On a long boat ride
The seed was a gift from the old homeland
For memory and health to survive

A gift for my father, he planted his seed
In his own backyard
With help from the bees, with help from the sun
It grew right up to his knees

From the best crop he plucked a seed
For me, yes he plucked it for me
Contained in its flesh is the secret of life
So ancient and yet so new

This seed I hold is a gift for my boy
So busy-but eat he must
From the ground comes health, from the pulse comes love
Light in the flesh strength in the bone

And now for his daughter, this seed is saved
A promise of health for her days
From her table shared wide with family and friend
This vessel of life will provide

My grandmother carried a seed in her hair
On a long boat ride
My grandmother carried a seed in her hair
In her hair she carried a seed