Organic View - Autumn/Winter 2007
A Publication of the Organic Consumers Association - Membership Update - Winter 2007
America: Organic & Green
The Ultimate Challenge of Our Generation
Contaminated food and grotesque factory farms; billions in misguided subsidies for industrial agriculture and genetic engineering; a massive biofuels boondoggle ravaging wetlands and tropical rainforests and expanding the acreage for chemical-intensive corn, soybeans, and palm oil; a frightening onslaught of global warming-induced drought, forest fires, melting glaciers, and pestilence; a bloody trillion-dollar war for oil in Iraq; degraded soils and contaminated waterways; depleted species; a spiraling epidemic of environment and diet-related diseases; out-of-control corporations, politicians, and technology; a pervasive cultural and spiritual malaise...
Connecting the dots in a series of inconvenient truths, more and more Americans are moving beyond "Business as Usual." Millions are purchasing organic foods and a wide range of green products that are healthy, locally produced, fair-made, and eco-friendly. Organic food and farmers markets are booming. Pesticide-free lawns and gardens, green buildings, solar panels, wind generators, "buy local" networks, and bike paths are sprouting. A critical mass is waking up to the fact that we must green our diets and lifestyles, drastically reduce petroleum use and greenhouse gas pollution, re-stabilize the climate, sow peace instead of war, take back control of our political system, and heal ourselves-before it's too late.
For 10,000 years, local indigenous farmers managed to grow and distribute healthy food, and ample feed and fiber, largely without the use of petroleum-based chemical fertilizers, toxic pesticides, and energy-intensive irrigation, processing, and long-distance transportation. In 1945 most of America's six million family farmers were still rotating their crops and cultivating a wide variety of fruits, grains, beans, and vegetables organically, fertilizing with natural compost, and, in general practicing sustainable farming methods they had learned from their parents and grandparents. In 1945, frugal and health-minded Americans were growing a full 42% of their vegetables and fruits in backyards, schoolyards, and community Liberty Gardens. The nutritious, generally non-processed foods that they cooked for their family's meals were purchased from locally-owned grocers, who stocked their shelves with a wide variety of items typically raised within a 100 mile radius of their communities.
In the 1950s the average American household spent 22% of their household income for fresh, locally produced food. By today's standards this post-war generation was relatively healthy in terms of low rates of diet-related diseases such as cancer (now striking 48% of US men and 38% of women), heart disease, obesity, diabetes, food allergies, birth defects, and learning disabilities.
Sixty years later we have a Fast Food Nation spending a mere 11% of our household income for food, over consuming meat and animal products, gorging ourselves on the industrialized world's cheapest, most contaminated, and environmentally polluting fare, destroying our health with highly processed, high-sugar, high-cholesterol foods. This evermore-deadly diet is subsidized by billions of taxpayers' dollars going to corporate agribusiness in the US, or else imported from overseas by the food giants and Big Box chains from low-wage, environmentally destructive farms and processors. Industrial scale, energy-intensive agriculture, factory farm livestock production, and long distance food transportation and processing currently generate 20-25% of all climate destabilizing greenhouse gases (CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide).
Another 25% of greenhouse gases are a direct result of deforestation, whacking down the world's remaining rainforests to clear the way for industrial scale soybean, palm oil, and cattle plantations. Meanwhile scientists warn that the killer droughts and unpredictable weather now plaguing the US and much of the world will reduce crop yields and increase world hunger and malnutrition by 30% over the next two decades.
The good news is that there is a solution at hand. Making the time-tested practices of local, organic food and farming the norm, and preserving our forests and wetlands, will go a long way toward restoring our health and preventing climate chaos. Organic farms use 30-50% less energy than industrial farms. Organic farms, along with intact wetlands and forests, safely sequester enormous amounts of greenhouses gases in the soil.
Of course organic food and farming are not enough. As the world's climate scientists warn us, in order to avoid catastrophic global climate change, we must keep atmospheric greenhouse gas (primarily CO2) pollution below 450 parts per million, and keep global temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. To do this will require that we slash greenhouse gas pollution by at least 10% in 2010, and 90% in 2050.
To accomplish this monumental task, we must stop the trillion-dollar war for oil in Iraq, end the White House's crazed campaign for world domination, and cure America's addiction to fossil fuels. We must redirect hundreds of billions of dollars in annual military spending to research and development on green fuels, rebuild our nation's infrastructure, train millions of disadvantaged inner city youth and Iraq war veterans for the urban "Green Collar" jobs and rural organic farming jobs that we need, and then green and retrofit every business, farm, home, apartment building, parking lot, lawn, and roof in America. Please join the OCA on this "high road" campaign for an Organic and Green America. Time is running out.
A Message from the Director
Season's greetings from the Minnesota north woods office of the Organic Consumers Association. Brilliant fall colors and some long overdue rainfall, followed by chilly temperatures and the season's first snow, remind us that life is racing by. Catching our breath after an almost unbelievable year of bad news, global conflict, and inconvenient truths, if feels good to slow down, take stock of where we've been, harvest our positive energy, and get ready for what will no doubt be a bellwether year-2008. Recent months have been intense, with the OCA and our grassroots allies struggling to maintain high standards in the rapidly growing organic and green sectors of the economy, while putting the brakes on out-of-control corporations, politicians, and technocrats.
To accomplish our goals we have expanded our website and campaign agenda, and joined hands with a wide range of sustainable agriculture, fair trade, peace, climate change, and economic justice organizations, as well as "buy local" networks, electoral campaigners, and alternative health consumers. As you can see from this issue of Organic View, we have accomplished a great deal this year, especially given the David versus Goliath nature of our various campaigns. Sobered by the challenges we face-peak oil, resource depletion, global warming, endless war, and deteriorating public health-we are nonetheless inspired by the great leap of consciousness evident among millions of Americans.
OCA and our allied lobbying organizations, the Organic Consumers Fund and its Grassroots Netroots Alliance www.grassrootsnetroots.org, look forward to working with you in 2008. While continuing to focus on making organics and green commerce the dominant pillars of the economy, we are excited to be bringing together netroots and grassroots forces, linking together groups and individuals across the continent working on the inter-related issues of health, justice, sustainability, peace, and democracy.
As we have-somewhat sadly-learned over the years, there is absolutely no way we're going to have a healthy, organic future without fundamental cultural transformation and political change. And of course without wide-ranging political reforms, including voter-verified paper ballots, publicly funded elections, and continued access to the internet and alternative sources of information, genuine democracy is impossible. But one thing is certain. Failure is not an option. OCA needs your help to make our common dreams a reality. Please use the enclosed reply envelope to send us a donation. Thank you so much for your support.
Regards & Solidarity,
Ronnie Cummins, OCA National Director
OCA Mourns a Dear Friend
OCA mourns the death of a dear friend and populist revolutionary, Al Krebs. Al was one of the greatest analysts of corporate agribusiness and a tireless activist for family farms and sustainable agriculture.
Al served on OCA's Policy Board since its founding, and provided invaluable news and commentary through his online newsletters, the Agribusiness Examiner and the Calamity Howler.
Climate Change: Don't Panic-Go Organic
As leading scientists warn us, global warming is a real and growing threat. Unless we immediately reduce fossil fuel consumption (oil, gas, and coal), conserve energy, switch to clean renewable fuels, and slash CO2 emissions by 10% within three years, and 90% by 2050, our climate crisis will become a climate catastrophe. Waging trillion-dollar wars to gain control over the world's dwindling oil supplies will not stop global warming. If the US doesn't stop handing over $700 billion a year to the military-industrial complex, we may not have sufficient resources to shift into a post-carbon economy.
Energy-intensive industrial agriculture, long distance food transportation, intensive food processing, over-consumption of meat, and the destruction of tropical rainforests and wetlands to make way for giant soybean, corn, palm oil, and cattle plantations is generating a whopping 40% of all greenhouse gases. Even if all coal plants were shut down, gas-guzzlers were replaced by hybrids, and industry and utilities adopted conservation and renewable energy measures, business-as-usual industrial agriculture and agriculture-related deforestation would still be releasing enough greenhouse gases to wreck our future. We will never stave off global warming without an organic food and farming revolution. Local organic farms supplying healthy whole foods for primarily plant-based diets use at least 50% less energy and conserve or sequester in the soil enormous quantities of greenhouse gases.
Pouring billions of taxpayer dollars into inefficient and energy-intensive corn-based ethanol and soy-based biofuels is a dangerous delusion. First of all, conventional corn-based ethanol and soy-based biofuel use almost as much fossil fuel to grow and refine as the energy they ultimately generate. Second, even the more efficient biofuel feed stocks, like sugar cane and palm oil, actually produce more, not less greenhouse gases, since planting additional fields of these crops almost always involves cutting down tropical forests, which, when left intact, safely sequester a massive amount of carbon dioxide. Finally, biofuels programs, including those that promise more efficient fuels via genetic engineering, lull the public into believing that the government and corporate agribusiness are taking care of the problem, when in fact they are the cause of the problem. Our greenhouse crisis is real and getting worse. We have a narrow window of opportunity to keep the climate from spiraling out of control. We need to go organic and make major political changes before it's too late.
Common Victories: OCA's Recent Campaigns and Success Stories
Monitoring Organic Body Care
OCA's Coming Clean campaign continues to educate consumers, and monitor the natural and organic body care sector-the fastest growing segment in the personal care industry, increasing 20% per year.
As with organic food, OCA's dual mission is to point out the hazards of conventional cosmetics and body care-but also to help consumers differentiate between truly organic products and those that simply claim to be "organic." We're happy to see a growing list of body care companies that have done the hard work to create formulations that meet USDA food-grade organic standards. Two years ago, OCA and Dr. Bronner's filed a successful lawsuit with the USDA, allowing eligible body care companies utilizing 95-100% certified organic ingredients to display the "USDA Organic" seal on the front label of their products. www.organicconsumers.org/bodycare/
Companies producing personal care products that meet USDA Organic Standards:
AUBREY (note: OCA does not support the use of the word "Organic" in
company names unless all products are organic-only a few Aubrey products
meet this criteria)
DR. BRONNER'S MAGIC SOAPS (organic soaps, lotions, and lip-balms)
ONE GROUP - Miessence Certified Organics product line
SENSIBILITY SOAPS - Nourish product line
VERMONT SOAP ORGANICS
Defending Family Farmers:
Big Brother's Plans to Electronically Track
All Farm Animals Falls Short
As previously reported in Organic View, the USDA and a host of the largest factory farms in the US are pushing hard to pass laws that would require all farmers (even those with just one cow, horse, or chicken) to implant computer chips that would allow the USDA to electronically track every animal's movements. This expensive Big Brother program, entitled the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), would reduce the liability of large factory farms while putting many small family farms out of business.
OCA has recently alerted its readers that draft versions of the 2007 Farm Bill required the implementation of NAIS. Thanks, in part, to over 50,000 NAIS letters to Washington DC from OCA supporters, the current version of the Farm Bill keeps NAIS strictly a voluntary program, although some states are moving to make it mandatory. We will continue to monitor this issue and provide you with updates.
Food Safety: Driving Monsanto's rBGH Off the Market
Since our founding, OCA has been in the forefront of the battle to drive recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) and other GE foods off the market. Responding to the massive growth of organics and public pressure, a critical mass of dairy producers and retailers have finally announced they are banning rBGH, including Starbucks, a company the OCA has pressured since 2000.
Biotech industry giant Monsanto, the producer of the rBGH, is furious that OCA and other public interest groups have created, after a decade of grassroots campaigning, a "tipping point" in public consciousness, whereby even retail giants like Wal-Mart, Safeway, and Kroger's are stocking organic dairy products and telling their non-organic dairy suppliers such as Dean Foods to supply rBGH-free milk. In desperation, Monsanto has called upon the FDA and state authorities in Pennsylvania and other states to ban "rBGH-free" labels. The battle goes on, but OCA is confident we will eventually drive rBGH off the market.
Safeguarding Organic Standards: 600 Non-Organic Ingredients Removed from "USDA Organic" Products
In May, over 21,000 organic consumers, responding to an OCA Action Alert, sent letters to the USDA, objecting to the agency's announcement that it would be adding 38 new non-organic substances to a list of allowed ingredients in processed foods legally labeled as "USDA Organic." Although the USDA turned a deaf ear to the concerns of consumers, significant public pressure and media coverage has forced companies, including Anheuser-Busch, to announce they would source only organic ingredients such as hops in products displaying the "USDA Organic" seal.
Because of a 2005 lawsuit filed by a Maine organic blueberry farmer, Arthur Harvey, supported by public education work by the OCA, over 600 non-organic ingredients that were previously being used by companies manufacturing organic processed foods will now have to be removed, unless they are specifically reviewed and approved by the organic community's legally designated gatekeeper over allowed ingredients, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The NOSB, responding to pressure from the OCA and our allies, is also proposing a set of objective criteria to determine whether certain minor ingredients in organic processed foods are "commercially unavailable."
Consumer Rights: Class Action Lawsuits
Against Aurora's Factory
Aurora's "organic" milk is sold under the following private labels:
O organics brand
Nearly 500 organic consumers across the country have responded to OCA's call to take part in a class action law suit against Aurora Organic Dairy for misleadingly labeling the milk from their intensive confinement dairy feedlots as "organic." As a result, a powerful and precedent-setting lawsuit has been launched with participation from organic consumers in 27 states. The plaintiffs in the lawsuits are consumers who have purchased supermarket private label "organic" milk produced or sourced by Aurora Organic Dairy from large factory farms in Colorado and Texas, where thousands of cows are crowded into facilities with little or no access to pasture.
In mid-2007, the USDA revoked the organic certification of one of Aurora's five factory farms, forced them to sell off cows that had not been raised or transitioned properly into organic status, and placed their entire farm system on probation. Despite this slap on the wrist, Aurora has been allowed to continue most of its operations. As OCA Director Ronnie Cummins put it, "If the USDA refuses to enforce organic standards, then organic consumers have no choice but to act as their own enforcement body using the courts to punish those corporations, like Aurora, that put profits ahead of organic integrity."
Country of Origin Labeling Law Passes (Again)
Given a steady stream of food scares related to imports in 2007, Congress felt extra pressure to finally approve the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) Law. OCA has been campaigning to implement this law for over two years. This would allow consumers to determine where a given food product was produced, requiring COOL labeling for beef, lamb, pork, fish, perishable agricultural commodities & peanuts. Responding to OCA's COOL alerts, over 40,000 citizens and farmers wrote letters to lawmakers in the past few months through the OCA action alert website. But this may not be the last we've heard about the issue. Lawmakers also passed COOL back in 2002, but President Bush has signed two laws into effect that have delayed the implementation.
Campaigning to Stop the USDA from Subsidizing
Factory Farms, Genetic
Engineering and Junk Food
Over the past few months, OCA supporters have sent over 50,000 letters to Capitol Hill, calling on our elected representatives to pass a 2007 Farm Bill that supports family farmers, organics, locally grown foods, adequate funding for low-income nutrition programs such as food stamps, and sustainable agriculture. The Farm Bill is a massive $300 billion appropriations bill allocating federal tax funds for food, farming, and nutrition programs for the next five years.
Unfortunately and predictably, the power of big agribusiness's lobbying machine has once again successfully convinced an indentured Congress to stick with the status quo and hand over billions of dollars in subsidies for chemical-intensive, energy-intensive and GE crops, factory farms, cheap meats, and high fructose corn syrup junk food products. Thanks in part to your letters, organic farmers and related sustainable agriculture programs will receive slightly more funding than usual, but it's still a small pittance in comparison to the portion of taxpayer money routed through the Farm Bill to giant industrial-scale farms and transnational corporations like Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Wal-Mart, Tyson, and Monsanto, who profit from dumping the world's most heavily subsidized, environmentally destructive, and unhealthy foods on the plates of consumers.
Pasteurized Almonds Mislabeled as "Raw" Almonds
The OCA is currently working with a coalition of farmers and organizations focused on curbing the USDA's current obsession with requiring the pasteurization of just about everything. For example, on September 1, all retail stores were required to strip their shelves of raw almonds and replace them with pasteurized almonds. Although the definition of a "raw" almond inherently relies on a lack of pasteurization, the USDA's rule indicates that although raw almonds must be pasteurized, the producer can still label the product as "raw". Consumers of raw almonds are concerned that pasteurization kills the beneficial enzymes in the food. In addition, one of the FDA recommended pasteurization techniques is treatment with propylene oxide, which is classified as a "possible human carcinogen" by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and is banned in Canada, Mexico, and the EU. The OCA is calling on the USDA to cancel its pasteurization requirements on raw almonds. In the meantime, consumers can obtain raw almonds directly from producers via a visit to their farm or by ordering on the web.
Learn more at the OCA website: www.organicconsumers.org
Bringing Fair Trade Principles to Organic Production
When you buy organic, you know you're not subsidizing pesticides that contaminate your food and drinking water, or toxic chemicals that poison farm workers and their communities. You also avoid financing excessive greenhouse gas pollution that is destabilizing the climate. But, buying products produced in the USA or overseas with a label that says "USDA Organic," doesn't necessarily guarantee a living wage or humane working conditions for farm workers, many of whom in the US and elsewhere are migrants with little bargaining power.
Agribusiness and industrial slaughterhouses and food processors regularly exploit workers by illegally withholding wages, creating dangerous working conditions, providing inadequate housing and transportation, and using violence and intimidation to prevent workers from standing up for their rights. Meanwhile, laws regulating labor in agriculture provide few or no protections and benefits to farm workers. While the overt slavery of 19th century plantations and sweatshops has been outlawed, modern-day slavery has yet to be eradicated from US agriculture. Even on some organic farms, or in organic food processing facilities, OCA has learned over the years that workers are exploited.
The OCA began addressing farm worker abuse in 2005 by joining the Domestic Fair Trade Working Group (DFTWG). Once the DFT standards, certification, and labels are in place, health and justice-minded Americans will be able to vote with their consumer dollars for organic products which are not only healthy and environmentally sustainable, but fairly-traded and equitably produced as well.
Another way to support decent wages, benefits and working conditions for farmers and farm workers is to buy organic and transition to organic food from local family farmers at farmers markets, through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) organizations, or through Consumer Cooperatives. In addition there are a limited number of US-grown products bearing the United Farm Workers label.
Ultimately, we need to move from a system where farmers and workers' rights are for sale in a niche market to system of laws and certification where fair trade, sustainable and organic are the norm. Even as we support domestic fair trade labels, the organic movement needs to push for federal legislation to restore basic labor rights to all agricultural workers-especially immigrants.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
Keep up on Fair Trade and Eco-Justice issues by tuning into the Fair Trade section of the OCA website at: www.organicconsumers.org
OCA's solidarity campaigns with the United Farm Workers: www.ufw.org
Alliance for Fair Food: www.allianceforfairfood.org
Coalition for Immokalee Workers: www.ciw-online.org
Farm Worker Support Committee: www.cata-farmworkers.org
Equal Exchange: www.equalexchange.com/dft
Businesses in the Local Fair Trade Network: www.localfairtrade.org
Businesses unionized by the United Farm Workers: www.ufw.org
Businesses certified by the Agricultural Justice Project : www.cata-farmworkers.org/ajp/
Businesses certified "Socially Responsible" by the Institute for Market Ecology: www.imo.ch
BREAK THE CHAINS
Find Local, Fair Trade & Organic products and businesses at www.organicconsumers.org/btc/buyingguide.cfm
Organic Consumer Lobbying in Washington, DC
A strong ally in OCA's grassroots campaign work is the Organic Consumers Fund (OCF), a state and national lobbying organization.
In Congress, OCF has been trying to educate legislators who don't understand the health and environmental benefits of organic agriculture. Representative Collin Peterson, Chair of the House Agriculture Committee, was recently quoted as saying, "if people are dumb enough to pay that much [for local and organic food] then hallelujah." The irony is that corporate agribusiness subsidies embodied in federal legislation like the current $300 billion Farm Bill, that Peterson and other Congressional leaders have endorsed, are the reason that junk food is artificially cheap and abundant, while healthy organic food is still out of reach for many consumers.
At the National Organic Standards Board, OCF has been advocating for organic integrity in dairy and aquaculture, and working to keep non-organic ingredients out of foods labeled organic.
The OCF is urging the US Department of Agriculture to investigate industrial-scale "organic" dairies and hold them accountable when they violate organic standards.
At the Food and Drug Administration, OCF is pushing for labels on foods that come from cloned animals or contain genetically modified ingredients.
At the Environmental Protection Agency, OCF is trying to block approval of cancer causing chemicals like methyl iodide, a pesticide that is used on strawberries and other crops.
Press the Politicians
OCA's allied, but legally separate Political Action Committee, the Grassroots Netroots Alliance (GNA), is an online, people-powered campaign designed to address the nation's crisis and offer real solutions. GNA has developed a 12-point progressive Political Candidate Survey that you can email from the GNA website to the elected public officials who represent your district at the local, state, and federal levels.
We need real answers and real solutions, not just warmed-over political rhetoric. We need to know where our nation's 172,000 elected officials stand on the Burning Issues of publicly funded elections, paper ballots, election reform, stopping the war, greening the economy, drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions, rapidly converting to alternative energy and organic farming, universal health care, immigration reform, wage and labor reform, internet freedom, media reform, and progressive tax reform. Please go to www.grassrootsnetroots.org to send the GNA platform and 2008 Candidate Survey to your elected representatives.
A Quote from Frederick Douglass
"Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will." - Frederick Douglass, 1849
"I run a health food store in Ohio and I rely on the information that you send me. I feel that I can keep on top of issues and be active with my voice and my spending with your help. I continually print out articles and post them in the store to educate consumers. You make it easy for all of us who do not have the time to stay on top of everything. "
"At age 78, I actively am seeking employment so I can increase my financial support of your marvelous organization."
"We've been buying organic for about 8 years now, and with each newsletter we receive, our belief in organics is strengthened. "
"I am an upcoming coffee farmer in Zambia. I have read your articles with great interest. I thought coffee will give me a livelihood after retiring, but it is giving me more worries looking at the industry trends. However I am more encouraged to learn that there are people out there caring for those in the third world. Please keep it up."
"Congratulations to OCA. When WSJ starts attacking you, what better indication that you are hitting the mark! Keep up the good work!"
"How unfortunate and distressing that after all the years and energy invested in achieving an Organic Standard designed to ensure that consumers get the truth about their food, these scumbags now subvert it and use it to their own ends. Please stop them... if I had $10M to give you I would."
Mary Anselment - Office Manager
Alexis Baden-Meyer - Lobbyist
Ronnie Cummins - National Director
Wayne Frame - Accountant
Andrew Flanagan - Technical Assistant
Amy Gardner - Data Coordinator
Jack Klee - Mexico Office
Katya Kruglak - Field Organizer
Nick Lethert - Graphic & Web Design
Craig Minowa - Environmental Scientist
Casey Oppenheim - General Counsel
Honor Schauland - Content Management
Matt Tyler - Web Master
Steve Urow - Systems Programmer
Liz Welch - Illustration, Outreach
Rose Welch - General Manager
Marce Wood - Field Organizer
OCA Policy Advisory Board
Ronnie Cummins - OCA National Director
Will Allen - Organic Farmer, VT
Maude Barlow - Council of Canadians
Jay Feldman - Beyond Pesticides
Jim & Rebecca Goodman
Organic Farmers, WI
Jean Halloran - Consumers Union
Tim Hermach - Native Forest Council
Julia Butterfly Hill - Forest Activist & Author
Ashland Community Food Store, OR
Mika Iba - Food & Farming Activist, Japan
Pat Kerrigan - Emergency Food Shelf, MN
John Kinsman - Family Farm Defenders
Bruce Krug - Dairy Farmer, NY
Howard Lyman - Voice For A Viable Future
Victor Menotti - Int'l Forum on Globalization
Frances Moore-Lappé - Author & Activist
Robin Seydel - La Montanita Co-op, NM
Vandana Shiva - Author & Activist, India
John Stauber - Center for Media & Democracy
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