Organic View - Spring 2008

A Publication of the Organic Consumers Association - Membership Update - Spring 2008

The Food, Climate, and Energy Crisis

ScallionsFrom Panic to Organic

Rising food prices and shortages have joined the energy and climate crisis, economic recession, and the war in Iraq as headline news. While consumers struggle to pay their bills and put food on the table, Monsanto, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland rake in billions from taxpayer-subsidized biofuels. Monopolizing markets, polluting the environment with genetically modified organisms, and hoarding future reserves of crop seeds, wheat, rice, soy, corn, and other grains, the food and gene giants profit from global crisis and misery. Adding fuel to the fire, Wall Street speculators have shifted their greed from sub-prime mortgages to food and non-renewable resources.

The public is becoming aware of the multiple causes of the food crisis: millions of acres of corn and soybeans diverted into biofuels; corporate-driven free trade agreements that discourage nations from maintaining grain reserves and becoming self-sufficient in food production; massive subsidies for industrial agriculture and a misguided export model forcing millions of family farmers off the land; sharply escalating oil prices, farm inputs, and transportation costs; commodity speculation; population growth; a growing demand for feed grains for meat consumption, and, most ominously, a destabilized climate spawning deadly droughts, pests, floods, and unpredictable weather.

Fortunately, there are hopeful signs that we can move beyond crisis to positive solutions. Connecting the dots in our food-climate-energy crisis, millions of green consumers are voting with their dollars for foods and products that are healthy, locally produced, energy efficient, and eco-friendly. A growing number of politicians, mainly at local & state levels, are waking up.

Organic food and farmers markets are booming. Chemical-free lawns and gardens, green buildings, solar panels, wind generators, "buy local" networks, and bike paths are sprouting. A critical mass of organic-minded Americans are waking up to the fact that we must green the economy, drastically reduce petroleum use and greenhouse gas pollution, re-stabilize the climate, and heal ourselves, before it's too late.

For 10,000 years, locally based family farmers and ranchers managed to grow and distribute healthy food and ample feed & fiber, largely without the use of petroleum-based chemical fertilizers, toxic pesticides, animal drugs, or energy-intensive irrigation, processing, and long-distance transportation.

In 1945, most of the nation'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 generally practicing sustainable farming methods they had learned from their parents and grandparents.

By 1945, as part of the war effort, Americans were growing a full 42% of our vegetables and fruits in our backyards, schoolyards, and community Liberty Gardens. The nutritious, primarily non-processed foods that people cooked for their family meals were purchased from locally owned grocers who stocked their shelves with a wide variety of items - typically grown or raised within a 100 mile radius of our communities.

In the 1950s the average American household spent 22-30 percent of our household income for fresh, locally produced food. Currently we are spending 13-15%, with low-income households spending 30-35%.

By today's standards the post-war generation was relatively healthy in terms of low rates of diet-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, food allergies, birth defects, and learning disabilities.

Sixty years later we have a Fast Food Nation, living in denial (at least until recently), gorging ourselves on the industrialized world's cheapest and most contaminated fare, allowing out-of-control politicians, corporations and technocrats to waste our tax money on corporate welfare, destroy the environment, starve the poor, wage a multi-trillion dollar war for oil, and destabilize the climate.

The good news is that there is a solution at hand. Turning back to the time-tested practices of local, eco-friendly, organic food and farming will go a long way toward restoring our health and the health of the planet. Revitalizing democracy and bringing our politicians to heel will guarantee that these organic and green alternatives become the norm.

Organic and local farms dramatically reduce energy use in the agricultural sector by 30-50% while safely sequestering in the soil enormous amounts of greenhouse gases. Decades of research have shown that small farms produce far more food per acre than chemical farms, especially in the developing world, and that organic farms outperform chemical farms (by 40-70%) under the kind of adverse weather conditions that are quickly becoming the norm. Buying local and regionally grown organic products means food doesn't have to travel 1500-3500 miles before it reaches your kitchen.

Crisis demands change. We must continue to buy local and organic foods and green products. Patronize farmers markets. Start or expand your garden. Move your diet away from restaurant fare and over-consuming meat and animal products. Buy in bulk and cook your meals at home with healthy whole foods ingredients-vegetables, fruits, beans and grains. If you're going to eat meat or animal products, make sure they're both organic and grass-fed or free range. Most important of all, get political. Demand healthy and sustainable food and farming, energy, and climate policies from your local, state, and federal elected public officials-or else vote them out of office. Don't panic, go organic.

The Biofuels Hoax

In the wake of a powerful industry propaganda campaign promoting biofuels derived from corn and soybeans, public attention has been diverted away from the real solutions to our out-of-control energy and climate crisis: drastic energy conservation and a massive transition to solar and wind power.

FuelingThe biofuels revolution has accomplished very little besides increasing the profits of Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, and Monsanto. Fundamental changes in our lifestyles, city planning, public policies, and an overall shift away from a corporate-driven "profits before people'" economy must replace our addiction to climate destabilizing fossil fuels. Federal lawmakers have handed over billions of dollars for corn and soy-based biofuels, even after numerous studies indicating that crop agrofuels are ineffective in reducing energy use and greenhouse pollution. These subsidies are not only wasteful, but dangerous, in terms of promoting chemical-intensive agriculture and a hazardous and controversial technology: genetic engineering.

The overwhelming majority of corn and soybeans being grown for biofuels are genetically engineered crops, which threaten public health while destroying small farms and biodiversity. The enormous acreage diverted to agrofuels (25% of this year's US corn crop, and vast tracts in Asia & Latin America for soy and palm oil) is a major factor in creating global food scarcity and escalating food costs.

The biofuels hoax has enabled legislators and citizens to remain in a state of denial. Fortunately, public interest groups like OCA are exposing this hoax and offering alternatives. Over-consuming petroleum products, whether through industrial agriculture, energy-intensive food processing and packaging, long distance food transportation, gas guzzling cars, or badly insulated homes, will soon come to an end, whether we like it or not. The crucial issue is whether we can move quickly to reform our consumer practices, public policies, and infrastructure before this energy, climate, and food crisis becomes a catastrophe.

A number of enlightened city councils and state governments are becoming proactive, developing creative financing programs to help homeowners, businesses, and farmers install solar panels, wind generators, and retrofit buildings. Areas such as San Francisco, Woodbury County Iowa, and Washington state are passing laws to promote and expand energy efficient, regional, organic food and farming systems. It's time to call for a moratorium on biofuels and coal plants, convert to solar and wind, retrofit our homes and buildings, create millions of new green jobs, and make our alternative organic and green economy the dominant economy.

Coming Clean: OCA Exposes Carcinogen In Fake "Organic" Products

SOSOCA's battle to preserve organic integrity and truthful labels in the world of "organic" personal care products has heated up over the past few months. In March, OCA released a scientific study revealing the presence of a carcinogenic chemical, 1,4-Dioxane, in a large number of leading personal care products, including those claiming to be "natural" and "organic". The toxin was not found in any products bearing the "USDA Organic" seal, however, proving once again that the "Gold Standard" for health and sustainability for body care products is the "USDA Organic" seal.

Following the release of the highly publicized study, the OCA filed Cease and Desist letters demanding that companies with misleading "organic" labeling either change their labels or reformulate their products. Although some companies quickly agreed to remove petrochemicals from their products labeled as "organic," a number of leading brands profiting from the sales of mislabeled products, thumbed their noses at the OCA. This was the last straw.

Over the past four years, the OCA has pursued every possible avenue to preserve the integrity of the organic label in the body care sector, from public education, negotiations with industry, to pressuring the USDA. In late April, the OCA filed a lawsuit against companies mislabeling their body care products as "organic." In response, one of the main certifying bodies of these problematic "organic" products, Ecocert, filed a counter lawsuit against the OCA, no doubt intending to intimidate us. This will not stop us, of course, in our ongoing campaign to preserve organic standards and "put the natural back in natural." To fight and win this lawsuit and continue our work, we need your financial support. Please use the enclosed donation form today.

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Stopping Monsanto's GE Sugar

Sugar Beet HarvestThe US sugar supply is on the verge of becoming contaminated with Monsanto's genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets. Since more than half of all US granulated sugar comes from sugar beets, this new biotech ingredient will quickly and quietly spread into thousands of foods. Because labeling of GE ingredients is still not required in the US, consumers will not know if a product is GE-free unless it's organic.

For the past six months, the OCA has been working with our allies to pressure major companies like Hershey's, Mars, Kellogg's and American Crystal to publicly ban GE-derived sugar in their products. Twenty thousand of OCA's online activists have sent emails to these companies. Please stay tuned to our website and email newsletter, Organic Bytes, for updates on which GE-tainted products to avoid.

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Food Safety: Driving Monsanto's rBGH Off the Market

Millions Against MonsantoOCA made progress in its Starbucks Campaign in January when the coffeehouse giant finally banned rBGH-derived milk from their cafes. OCA and our allies have been pressuring Starbucks to remove recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone from its products since 1999, as well as to increase its sales of Fair Trade and organic coffee. Only 6% of Starbucks' coffee is Fair Trade or organic. Responding to consumer pressure, Wal-Mart also recently announced it will phase-out rBGH from its private label milk.

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Farm Bill: How Congress is Spending 300 Billion of Our Dollars

For over a year, the OCA has been mobilizing our grassroots network to lobby their elected officials to reform the 2007-2012 Farm Bill. This massive legislation sucks up $290 billion of taxpayer money, subsidizing corporate agribusiness, biotech companies and factory farms, while providing mere nickels and dimes for organic programs. OCA members responded to our ongoing Farm Bill action alerts and sent more than 100,000 letters to Congress, expressing their concerns about misguided crop and biofuels subsidies, country of origin labeling, lack of support for organics, and food stamp & nutrition programs.

After much ado, Congress has passed the final Farm Bill, despite a threatened Bush veto. Although the new Farm Bill represents "business as usual," your letters and calls helped to tighten income eligibility limits for subsidy payments, boost funding for food stamps, expand conservation programs and offer new incentives for alternative energy and organic farms.

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Sustainability Update: Biofuels Hoax

The OCA, joined by more than 100 US and international organizations, including the United Nations, has been sounding the alarm on biofuels. Although biofuels have been widely touted as a solution to climate change and dependence on foreign oil, diverting food crops like corn, soybeans, and palm oil to auto fuel tanks is now a major cause of skyrocketing global food prices as well as the driving force in the clear-cutting of millions of acres of rainforest.

Scientists are now pointing out that these agrofuels, subsidized by billions of taxpayer dollars, neither save significant amounts of energy nor reduce greenhouse gases, given the enormous energy and greenhouse gas pollution of industrial-style corn and soybean production. While OCA supports the production of biofuels from recycled waste (such as used vegetable oil, manure or sewage) and biomass sustainably grown and harvested for the benefit of local communities, the current focus on industrial produced agrofuels is a recipe for disaster. In fact, increasing US fuel efficiency by just 5% would reduce oil consumption more than all global biofuels combined, without the enormous collateral damage.

Learn more:

Affording Organic Food in Hard Times

How can we afford organic foods on a limited budget, with rising food prices? The short answer: by modifying food buying & cooking habits and growing our own.

Food purchasing. To save money, we can buy and cook in bulk, and buy direct and in season, from farmers markets when possible. We can join or organize a food buying club and receive bulk discounts, and/or join a Community Supported Agriculture group (CSA) and enjoy economical and bountiful weekly deliveries direct from local organic farmers. The OCA website has a list of farmers markets and information on how to start a food buying club or join a CSA. You can improve your health and save money by eating out less, and by consuming fewer processed foods, meats, and animal products.

CookingCooking. By cooking from scratch with whole foods-fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans, you'll spend less money and enjoy a healthier diet. Consult cookbooks, or 'google' recipes. There is an amazing amount of recipes on the internet-google "lentils and swiss chard" for example, and hundreds of recipes will appear.

Baking your own bread will significantly reduce your costs. A two-pound loaf of delicious organic bread will cost you a dollar, pizza dough fifty cents. If you are using a bread machine, OCA recommends that you use the dough function only, and bake the dough in your oven, since all bread machines currently on the market use Teflon coated pans.

Learning how to cook beans and grains and creatively use spices is essential. Lentils and split peas cook up in less than an hour, but pinto, black and white beans can take up to three hours, so plan ahead and cook enough for several meals. Frozen leftover beans will last two to three months before they begin to lose flavor. Cumin, garlic, onions, and chile ancho added for the last hour of cooking will make your pintos and black beans taste delicious. Add salt only during the last ten minutes.

Growing. Learn to grow your own veggies and spices in your backyard, in a community garden, or even in pots. Organic gardening is fun, gets you outside, and connects you to the Earth. An herb & vegetable garden will save you money on expensive herbs and provide you with the freshest produce in the world.

Storage. Invest in Ball/Kerr glass jars in assorted sizes with lids for storing bulk foods and leftovers. When you head out to your local coop or health food store, bring along heavy duty, reusable zip lock freezer bags for bulk purchases. Storing a variety of lentils, beans, rice, flour, pasta, oats, nuts, spices, and dried fruits will insure you always have something tasty and nourishing on hand.

Good luck and bon appetit!

A Message From the Director

Summer greetings from the Organic Consumers Association. Deep in the north woods of Minnesota, everyone is happy that the long winter is over.

Although we are all preoccupied by global food insecurity, as well as an alarming energy and climate crisis and a bloody war, we are heartened by what appears to be a definite rise in public consciousness. Change is in the air, from local farmers markets and natural food stores to City Hall and the White House. While struggling to safeguard high standards in the growing organic and green sectors of the economy, we continue to expand our website and campaign activities. As you can see from the centerfold story, OCA has been active since last fall, with a number of notable successes.

As public awareness of the links between the climate, energy, and food crisis has set in, OCA has stepped up its nationwide public education activities, with a special emphasis on how converting the nation's food and farming system to local and organic production will not only improve public health, but also dramatically reduce climate destabilizing greenhouse gas pollution and wean our nation away from its self-destructive addiction to oil. In the face of economic recession, we are also focusing on providing information on how consumers can afford organic foods on a limited budget, and how we as a nation can make organic foods and information available to everyone, including low-income communities and households.

OCA needs your help to build a healthy, just, and sustainable future. please send us tax-deductible donation, online or by phone or mail. Thank you so much for your support.

Regards & Solidarity,
Ronnie Cummins, OCA National Director

Lobbying Update: Organic Consumers in Washington DC

CapitolOCA and our ally, the Organic Consumers Fund, have been busy lobbying in Washington, DC, pressing for pro-organic, sustainable agriculture measures in the 2008-2012 Farm Bill.

Although the overall $290 billion Farm Bill is a disappointment, demonstrating once again that we need fundamental regime change in Washington and the USDA, organic consumers and our allies did manage to get a number of pro-organic and transition to organic programs funded, including:

  • Organic Certification Cost Share Reauthorization
    $22 million over five yrs. (nearly a 5x increase!) to help organic producers with certification costs.
  • Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
    $12 billion over 10 yrs. to promote sustainable farming practices, making it easier for thousands of farmers enrolled in the CSP program to go organic.
  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
    $3.4 billion over 10 yrs. EQIP now includes a new technical and financial assistance option for organic producers that would qualify them for up to $20,000/yr (no more than $80,000/6 yrs).
  • Organic Agriculture Research Extension Initiative
    $78 million over 4 yrs. (a 5x increase), plus $25 million/yr. authorized for appropriations. Funds competitive grants for organic farming research & extension programs.
  • Organic Data Collection Initiative
    $5 million over 5 yrs., plus $5 million/yr. authorized for appropriations.

OCA & OCF continued to lobby for strict organic standards; mandatory labeling for GE foods; a ban on nanotechnology in foods, supplements & packaging; and other food and farming issues related to our mission of promoting health, justice, sustainability, peace, & democracy.

Member Comments

You are a ray of sunshine in an oftentimes dreary world of news we often feel we can do nothing about. Ann in La Jolla, CA

Please know how important your work is. I will do what I can to support the companies that deserve my business, let the ones who don't know why, and disseminate the truth. Natasha

Your work is priceless, and I tell everyone about you. Keep up the good work! Kathleen, Dillard, OR

Thanks for standing up to the giant food industry. Keep it up!! Stanley in Port Townsend, WA

I want to congratulate you on your Planting Peace Campaign. Peace is an integral part of organic food sustainability. Keep up the great work! Peter

I really appreciate the work you do, and the information you disseminate. Thank you for all your efforts and for helping me evaluate my own goals and my approach to living on this fine planet of ours. Sharon, San Francisco, CA

Thank you for all you do. Without you I would know little of the vultures who continue to circle and feed on the living. Gwendoline in Gainesville, FL

I LOVE my newsletters and try to take action on all of the issues that you bring to light. I also forward them out to many friends each month and read them to my teenagers to keep them alive and active to the needs. Teresa in Chevy Chase, MD

Thanks for all the work you do on behalf of people who care. There's no other organization I know of that digs as deep into these issues than you. Keep up the good work! Jill & Brian in Bloomington, IN

OCA deserves utmost appreciation and unconditional support all over the world. My hearty congratulations to OCA. Kunuthur Srinivasa, India

I feel that I can keep on top of issues and be active with my voice and my spending with your help. You make it easy for all of us who do not have the time to stay on top of everything. Thanks again and keep up the great work! Blake, Ohio

Thank you for all your hard work. Your e-newsletter is one of the best and one of the few I actually read. OCA has good information about so many issues and I think you're a really high-quality organization, doing an important watch-dog and advocacy job.

Amanda in Shelburne, VT

I love your newsletters. Thanks for keeping this flame going. And to hell with Aurora, et al. John in Glendale, CA

Keep up the great work; you have the support of many thousands (at least!) of us out here. Paul in Minneapolis, MN

Thank you for the wonderfully informative bi-weekly emails! You do an excellent job of presenting information. Jennifer in Niskayuna, NY

Thank you for all that you do to protect the integrity of our food supply, and the personal and home care products available to us. Thank you for your leadership in restoring our democracy through helping citizens stay informed and providing channels for us to express our wishes. I am so grateful for all that you are and do! Lynn in Silver City, NM

  • 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
  • Annie Hoy - 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-Lappe - Author & Activist
  • Robin Seydel - La Montanita Co-op, NM
  • Vandana Shiva - Author & Activist, India
  • John Stauber - Center for Media & Democracy
  • Mary Anselment - Office Manager
  • Alexis Baden-Meyer - Lobbyist
  • Ronnie Cummins - National Director
  • Wayne Frame - Accountant
  • Andrew Flanagan - Website
  • 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
  • Alejandro Ramirez - Mexico Office
  • Honor Schauland - Content Management
  • Steve Urow - Systems Programmer
  • Liz Welch - Illustration, Outreach
  • Rose Welch - General Manager
  • Marce Wood - Special Projects
  • Ryan Zinn - Field Organizer
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