A publication of the Organic Consumers Association
Breaking the Chains
The OCA is proud to announce our most far-reaching and ambitious campaign yet, Breaking the Chains: Buy Local, Organic, and Fair Made. The OCA kicked off the Breaking the Chains (BTC) campaign in North America in April with several hundred community House Parties and screenings of the True Cost of Food animated DVD. We also added a new BTC section to our website and printed up thousands of leaflets and eye-catching bumper stickers.
If ever there was a time to Break the Chains of mindless and self-destructive consumerism, it is now. While organic food and natural products have grown to $45 billion annually—10% of all grocery sales—the “Wal-Martization” and big chain consolidation of our economy continues at a rapid pace. If we don’t change the dynamics of the marketplace and public policy, there soon won’t be any local, independently owned retail stores, small businesses, coffeehouses, clothing stores, farms, farmers markets, or coops left where we can shop, congregate, and build community. If we don’t turn to conservation and renewable forms of energy and stop disrupting the climate with greenhouse gases soon, our children will likely be scrambling in 20 years to find and afford any food, organic or not.
Although farmers and businesses are producing more organic goods than ever, most of these products are being shipped in diesel-belching tractor trailers (or even worse, via air freight) over great distances from farm to chain to fork, at an average of over 1600 miles per food item. The health advantages we reap by eating organic food may sometimes come at the cost of burnt fossil fuels and increased greenhouse gases. Powerful corporations and retail chains with freshly-painted organic facades are skirting USDA organic standards and misleading organic consumers, while displacing genuine organic farmers and businesses. Brand name bullies and big box chains like Wal-Mart are leading the way in a race to the bottom. They are replacing ethics with cheap goods, outsourcing from sweatshops in distant factories and fields, cutting corners on public health and the environment, and sucking up billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies. The time has come to say: “Basta! Enough is enough!”
Consumers Across The Nation Are Breaking The Chains By:
SPREADING THE WORD:
A Message from the Director
Warm greetings from the Organic Consumers Association. As I write this, the OCA network, now 700,000 strong, has just celebrated its seventh birthday. Seven years ago, the OCA arose out of a stormy, yet ultimately successful nationwide grassroots campaign against the USDA, called Save Organic Standards. At the time OCA consisted of one paid staff, two volunteers, and a six month-old nursing infant, my son, who must have thought that it was normal for telephones in our Minnesota northwoods office to ring constantly, for mom and dad to carry him around in a baby sling while we frenetically packaged up leaflets and petitions for the afternoon UPS pick-up, and for grown adults to cheer every time we opened an envelope with a donation from one of our new members. More than a few people warned us not to try to start a new national organization in 1998. They said it was too expensive, that philanthropists were fickle, and that we’d never survive on small donations alone. Luckily we listened to our hearts instead, as well as to thousands of organic consumers and farmers who were clamoring for information, leaflets, and petitions.
Seven years ago we were heartened by the fact that six percent, or six million US households, were buying organic food on a regular basis. Now there are fifteen million organic households, with organic and natural product revenues reaching $45 billion annually, which amounts to 10% of all grocery store sales in the nation. Within two decades, organic will again become the norm, rather than the alternative. After years of education and mobilization, the OCA and the organic community are poised to become a major force for positive change. Millions of Americans agree with the OCA that it’s time to “Break the Chains” of mindless and self-destructive consumerism and move our communities and our nation in the direction of health, justice, and sustainability.
OCA has doubled the size of our online network in the past year. We now have 250,000 subscribers on our email list, and 600,000 people a month visit our Daily News and Campaign web pages. Throughout the fall, we’ll not only be stepping up our efforts to preserve organic standards and challenge the practices of industrial agriculture and genetic engineering, we’ll also be rolling out a new exciting campaign called Breaking the Chains: Buy Local, Organic and Fair Made—complete with House Parties, picket lines, consumer buycotts and boycotts, film screenings, and Global Days of Action.
Of course, we need your help to do this. If you haven’t already, please send a donation. And thank you so much for your previous support. Our goal for the next year is to once again double the size of our network. Please help us grow by telling your friends and family to visit our website: www.OrganicConsumers.org and subscribe to our free email newsletter, Organic Bytes.
Regards & Solidarity,
Biotech Bullying: Time To Get Up Off Our Knees
A decade after the controversial introduction of genetically engineered (GE) foods and crops, we stand at a crossroads. Despite public health disasters (l-Tryptophan 1988-89) and near-disasters (allergenic Brazil nut-spliced soybeans 1996, StarLink corn 2000), despite contamination in 2002 of millions of pounds of soybeans and corn with a gene-spliced pig vaccine and an experimental AIDS drug, despite overwhelming evidence of cross-pollination, seed commingling, pollution of organic crops, and damage to animal and human health, the Biotech Express steadily moves forward, rolling over consumers and farmers alike.
Last year California’s Mendocino County became the first county in the US to ban GE crops. Since then, two other California counties and 100 New England towns have followed Mendocino’s example. Globally, over 100 regions have declared themselves GE-Free. Forty nations, comprising one-third of the world’s population, now require mandatory labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). In the EU, the largest agricultural market in the world, GE foods have been driven off supermarket shelves.
Fearing the contagious spread of European-style consumer democracy to America, the Biotech Bullies are striking back.
In the past several months, eleven US states, prodded by Monsanto and the Farm Bureau, have made it illegal for local communities to ban GE crops: Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and West Virginia. Other state legislatures are poised to pass these blatantly anti-democratic “Monsanto laws.” Of course we need to try to repeal these laws and prevent additional states from taking away the right of our local units of government to ban GE crops. But can’t we do more?
Off Our Knees: Restoring Consumer Choice
It’s time to get up off our knees. Ninety percent of North American consumers have stated, in poll after poll, that they want to be able to choose whether to buy foods laced with GMOs or not. This is why Monsanto and their allies have fought so hard against labeling. This is why the FDA, the US Congress, and the Canadian Parliament will not touch the issue. This is why in Europe, where labels are required, Frankenfoods are dead.
OCA is ready to work with our allies across the continent to restore consumers’ right of choice over GMOs. In the marketplace, if large food corporations are required to label their products containing GMOs, even if, at first, labels are required in only one or two states, they will have little choice but to reformulate their products or find non-GMO sources. This is why even staunchly pro-biotech companies in North America—Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, General Mills, Kraft, and Coca-Cola—are offering GE-free products in Europe.
Off Our Knees: Join Us! Stand Up to the Bullies
HERE’S OCA’S PLAN:
TO DO THIS WE NEED YOUR HELP
OCA Campaign News
Millions Against Monsanto
The Monsanto Corporation continues to be exposed in the media for its reckless disregard of public health and the environment. In response, the OCA has stepped up our Millions Against Monsanto campaign. Current efforts focus on helping consumers boycott products produced by Monsanto, advising investors on how to avoid companies related to Monsanto, and continuing to gather a collective force of citizens in speaking out against the corporation’s practices.
Recently, Monsanto managed to convince a federal judge that it was innocent of poisoning millions of children and adults with its chemical defoliant, Agent Orange, during the Vietnam War. Documentation has surfaced proving that the company knew all along that Agent Orange was highly toxic, yet continued to spray millions of gallons of the poison on soldiers and civilians.
Demonstrating the power of concerned consumers, OCA and allies gained a recent victory against Monsanto’s recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). In February, the OCA collected thousands of petition signatures and generated phone calls and faxes to support Tillamook Dairy, a large national cheese company, to ban rBGH. Despite threats by Monsanto, the Tillamook board of directors voted to go rBGH-free.
Monsanto has recently intensified lobbying efforts to stop bills that would restrict the use of some of their more widely used pesticides such as glyphosate and atrazine. New studies are showing these chemicals to be far more toxic than initially thought. The company is also investing millions in overturning ordinances passed by local communities whose citizens have voted to ban GE crops in their area.
Appetite for a Change
Protecting children from toxic food and environmental pollution, and making organic food available to everyone, are key concerns of the OCA. One example of our work in this area is to alert the public that most states do not allow organic foods as part of the nation’s low income women and children’s dietary supplement program, called WIC. OCA is working with Minnesota legislators to help the state become one of the first to gradually reintegrate affordable organic foods back into the WIC program by connecting local organic food manufacturers with statewide distribution networks.
In other Appetite for a Change news, the OCA faced off against the EPA in late 2004 for taking money from chemical corporations to launch a study of toxic chemical exposure on children. OCA’s alert stimulated massive public response and the study was ultimately delayed “for further review.” In April, under intense pressure from several Senators, the study was finally terminated.
The OCA is currently lobbying elected officials to bring more nutritious foods into school lunch programs while pressuring school districts to phase out junk food.
Clothes For A Change
OCA is raising global awareness about the negative health and environmental effects of conventional and GE cotton farming and the institutionalized exploitation of clothing sweatshops. By uniting organic consumers, anti-GE activists, trade unionists, religious groups, social justice advocates, progressives in the fashion & apparel industry, and the Fair Trade/anti-sweatshop community, we are promoting significant changes in the marketplace and in international trade. Recently, the WTO has ordered the US to stop illegally subsidizing conventional and GE cotton with $3 billion of taxpayer money each year. This opens up the opportunity to change the 2007 Farm Bill so that all non-green subsidies for cotton and other crops are eliminated.
Overseas, after years of poor crop yields, hundreds of villages across India are declaring themselves GE-free. In response, Nike and other companies have announced they will no longer use GE cotton in their products. Consumers are increasingly seeking ethically produced clothing products, and as a result, the organic cotton market is achieving record sales.
SOS: Safeguard Organic Standards
OCA has been busy working to safeguard national organic standards on several fronts. One major challenge to strict standards has been the continuing failure of factory-style “organic” dairy feedlots like Horizon Organic and Aurora to give their animals access to pasture, contrary to National Organic Program requirements. In April, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) was forced to address the issue, after OCA and other groups presented the Board with a petition signed by over 8,000 concerned organic consumers and farmers. Following the meeting, the NOSB ruled that intensive confinement dairy farms should not be labeling their products as “USDA Organic”.
On another front, the OCA and its allies joined with plaintiff Arthur Harvey, an organic blueberry farmer in Maine, in a federal lawsuit contesting the use of thirty-eight synthetic ingredients in foods labeled “organic.” In the wake of the federal ruling that synthetics were no longer permitted, OCA and the organic community are close to reaching consensus on a limited list of synthetics (e.g. baking soda) that may be allowed in products labeled as “Made with organic ingredients.” Synthetics may not be used in products that are 95-100% organic that carry the USDA Organic label.
Mad Cow USA: Stop the Madness
OCA is gathering public support to pressure the USDA to answer recent allegations from several USDA contracted scientists that the agency has been covering up cases of Mad Cow Disease. Federal meat inspector Lester Friedlander recently told a Canadian House of Commons committee that the US has been covering up Mad Cow cases for over a decade. Dr. Masua Doi, a former USDA veterinarian, has publicly denounced “sketchy” testing since 1997. Dr. Karl Langheindrich, who runs a Mad Cow test lab in Georgia, told the press that animal parts critical to accurate testing were not being sent to him. The USDA has refused to respond to these allegations, but OCA has already gathered tens of thousands of citizens to pressure the agency. Meanwhile non-organic factory farms are still feeding slaughterhouse waste, blood, and manure to animals—dangerous practices banned in the EU and Japan.
Coming Clean Campaign
In a move that rocked the organic industry, the USDA announced in April that it will not monitor or police “organic” label claims on personal care products, nor allow companies that use certified organic ingredients to display the “USDA Organic” label. This ruling negates a previous 2002 directive that allowed USDA certified organic body care products to be labeled as such.
The new policy is a complete regulatory “hands off” approach to an industry already rife with labeling fraud and deceptive advertising practices. It provides great incentive for unscrupulous members of the personal care industry to continue boldly labeling their products as “organic” when the primary ingredients are actually synthetic. It has become increasingly important for consumers to become educated about personal care labeling and ingredients, in order to be able to distinguish legitimate organic personal care products from their misleadingly labeled conventional counterparts.
In response, the OCA is working with a new task force established by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF). This task force will work together to create a voluntary organic standard for personal care products. That standard will then be taken to the FDA and USDA to be made into a federally regulated standard. At this time, the voting members of the task force consist almost completely of industry representatives, and the OCA, unfortunately, is the one and only consumer representative.
This makes for a challenging situation, given that many of the industry representatives are pushing for a weakened standard that would allow a myriad of synthetic ingredients to be used in personal care products labeled as “organic.” The OCA is responding to the voices of its consumer supporters who say organic standards should be the same for any and all types of products, whether for food or personal care. In that sense, the OCA is working to insure that this new NSF standard emulates the current USDA national organic standards.
Toxic Cotton, Sweatshops, and US Farm Subsidies
OCA’s Clothes for a Change campaign is attempting to get consumers to “care what they wear” and go organic and Fair Made, not just for their food, but for their clothing as well. OCA’s message is that pesticide-intensive and GE cotton “sweatshops in the fields” present serious threats to farm workers and public health, as well as to the environment, and must be eliminated. Consumers are usually shocked to learn that their brand name clothes typically come from sweatshops. But many are even more shocked to learn that they are eating toxic pesticide residues and Gmos when they consume non-organic foods containing cotton seed oil (crackers, snack foods, baked goods), or even worse, when they or their children consume milk and dairy products coming from non-organic dairy cows. These cows are typically fed six to eight pounds of highly contaminated cotton seed and “gin trash” daily.
OCA is trying to alert consumers that billions of our federal tax dollars are being wasted in subsidy programs for these same chemical-intensive and GE crops such as cotton, corn, and soybeans, which not only contaminate our food supply and drinking water, but then are dumped on the world market below the cost of production, driving hundreds of millions of small farmers in the developing world into desperate poverty. While the USDA gives $25 billion in annual subsidies to America’s largest chemical-intensive and GE farms and billions more to exporters, organic farmers and family farmers wishing to go organic get nothing. Seven percent of US farmers get 80% of all subsidies, while 64% get no subsidies at all. Even the WTO recently ruled that America’s non-green cotton subsidies are “trade-distorting” and illegal. To change these outrageous and unjust policies, OCA is organizing a national public education and grassroots lobbying campaign to reform the 2007 Farm Bill so that all “non-green” cotton and crop subsidies are eliminated in favor of “green” subsidies that promote organic and sustainable farming, alternative energy, and local rural development. For more information on this campaign, please contact the OCA office or consult the Clothes for a Change section on our website, which is updated regularly.
OCA Helps Terminate the Terminator
In February, the OCA mobilized its supporters around the globe to stop the legalization and commercialization of the controversial Terminator Gene Technology, whereby seeds are genetically engineered to become sterile or commit suicide after one growing season. Monsanto and the biotech industry support the Terminator Technology, because it would force many of the 1.4 billion farmers around the world to stop saving their own seeds and instead purchase patented seed varieties every year.
Scientists are concerned that genetic pollution from Terminator crops will lead to the extinction of a wide range of crops and plants, as Terminator pollen and seeds are spread by the wind, insect pollinators, and commercial seed commingling and transportation. The biotech industry was putting intense pressure on the UN to legalize this experimental technology. Thanks to the grassroots work of the OCA and its allies opposing this measure, along with a flood of letters to the UN from folks like you, the biotech industry’s efforts were blocked and the Terminator Gene Technology was banned.
Host a Breaking the Chains Potluck
OCA network members, friends, and family are Breaking the Chains across the country, dining on organic food and drink, watching the powerful and humorous 15 minute DVD, True Cost of Food (suitable for children and adults), and sharing ideas on how we can spread the movement to “Buy Local, Organic, and Fair Made.” For a donation of $25 (to cover expenses), OCA will send you the True Cost of Food DVD, sample invitations to get people to attend your Breaking the Chains potluck, and the OCA’s Breaking the Chains Action Guide, with articles, ideas, and resources.
These Breaking the Chains House Parties are just the start of this campaign. The OCA is sponsoring numerous other BTC events throughout 2005. September is Organic Harvest Month, and the OCA will organize another round of House Parties and community events across the country. Starting November 25th, the day after Thanksgiving, OCA and our allies will organize a series of Global Days of Action to kick-off Buy Local Month, which will extend until New Year’s Day 2006. During this period the OCA will attempt to get over one million consumers to sign the Buy Local, Organic, and Fair Made resolution, boycott the chains, patronize local independently owned business and coops, and think about our values each time we open our wallets.
Call or write our office if you are willing to help organize Break the Chains events in your community.
Sign the Breaking the Chains resolution.
OCA House Party Packs
OCA is offering the following DVDs and other organizing materials for a number of campaigns.
Free Electronic Newsletter
Besides Organic View, OCA publishes a free electronic newsletter, Organic Bytes, which is published bi-weekly. Organic Bytes contains summaries of the most important recent news stories from our website, along with Action Alerts, quotations, photos and graphics. For a free subscription, visit the OCA Publications page on our website. Current and past issues are available there in html or print-ready PDF for your use, copyright free!
Organic Consumers Association
Policy Advisory Board
Organic View, Spring 2005 - A publication of the Organic Consumers Association.
Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day. -E.B.White