Organic View - Spring 2009

A Publication of the Organic Consumers Association - Membership Update - Spring 2009

The Organic Alternative

The Organic Alternative: Recipe for Survival

W ith food-based epidemic scares, steadily deteriorating public health, and warnings from the world's climate scientists that continued energy-intensive lifestyles will destroy us, it is obvious that the organic alternative in food and farming is a recipe for survival.

Girls PlantingIf the existing heavily subsidized industrial farm system is allowed to continue, diet and environment related diseases - including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, influenza, and cancer - will likely bankrupt the entire health care system within a decade. While in 1970, US health care spending totaled $75 billion, or $356 per person, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services project that by 2016 health care spending will soar to over $4.1 trillion, or $12,782 per resident, representing a crushing 19.6% of GDP.

Global warming and oil shortages will soon severely disrupt industrial agriculture and long-distance food transportation, leading to massive crop failures, food shortages, famine, war, and disease. Accelerating levels of greenhouse gases (especially from cars, coal, cattle, and related rainforest and wetlands destruction) threaten to push global warming to a tipping point that will melt the polar icecaps and unleash a cataclysmic discharge of climate-destabilizing methane from the arctic tundra.

The good news is that OCA and the organic community are creating an alternative model. After 40 years of hard work, the organic community has built a $25 billion organic food and farming sector, representing 3.5% of all grocery store purchases.

Sales statistics underline the positive fact that 50-100 million organic consumers, despite an economic recession, are willing to pay a premium price for organic and sustainable products. Using our current organic system as a model, we have the opportunity to transform agriculture and food distribution (30% of all greenhouse gas pollution), while we carry out a similar “deep green” or permaculture revolution in housing, transportation, utilities, and manufacturing (70% of greenhouse gases).

Decades of research confirm that organic agriculture crop yields are comparable or even 50-70% better (during drought or heavy rain) than chemical/GMO farming. Nutritional studies show that organic crops are qualitatively healthier in terms of vitamin content and trace minerals. Climate experts emphasize that organic farms use, on the average, 50% or less petroleum inputs than chemical farms, while generating drastically less greenhouse gases such as CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide. Moreover diverse, multi-crop organic farms can sequester or store permanently enormous amounts of CO2 in the soil. A return to traditional organic, carbon-sequestering farming practices across the globe could reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 40%. This is enough to begin to reverse global warming.

We can no longer afford to have 90% of our food market monopolized by out-of-control corporations, chemical and energy intensive factory farms, and profit-at-any-cost retail chains. The growth of organic food and farming is a matter of life or death. Please join OCA on the long road to save the planet and our children.

Organic Farming and the Climate Crisis

T he world's leading climate scientists have concluded that the current level of atmospheric CO2 equivalent - about 387 parts per million (PPM) - “is already too high to maintain the climate to which humanity, wildlife, and the rest of the biosphere are adapted.” Extreme weather events, like Hurricane Katrina and the 2003 European heat wave that killed 35,000, are becoming more frequent and intense. The average number of natural disasters per year during the early 1980s was about 120. Now, the number has increased to nearly 500.

In Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?, James Hansen determined that the long-term CO2 limit is 350 ppm. Because of the long lifetime of CO2, this requires that net CO2 emissions approach zero in the next few decades. Hansen writes, "We must begin to move now toward the era beyond fossil fuels. Continued growth of greenhouse gas emissions, for just another decade, practically eliminates the possibility of near-term return of atmospheric composition beneath the tipping level for catastrophic effects… The stakes, for all life on the planet, surpass those of any previous crisis. The greatest danger is continued ignorance and denial, which could make tragic consequences unavoidable."

compostingAs a first step, Hansen recommends, “phasing out coal use by 2030 and adopting agricultural and forestry practices that sequester carbon.”Fertilizing with compost, as organic farmers do, has the greatest potential to mitigate global climate change. Rodale Institute research shows that composting can sequester carbon at a rate of up to 3,200 kg/ha/year.

Composting converts atmospheric carbon dioxide to organic carbon in soils, contributing to combating the greenhouse gas effect. Harvesting crops removes carbon from the soil that would otherwise return to the soil when the plant dies and decomposes. Composting returns the organic matter to the soil. The nitrogen in compost increases soil productivity, leading to increased crop residues and an increased return of carbon to the soil. Composting increases the formation of stable carbon compounds, or humus, that remain bound in the soil for long periods of time and comprise 60-80% of soil organic matter. Humus increases soil fertility, water-holding capacity, drought resistance and nutrient cycling, and reduces soil erosion.

Dr. Rattan Lal, director of Ohio State University's Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, says that farms could capture a third of current US carbon pollution, sequestering 600 million metric tons of carbon or more than 2,200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. (This projection is based on much lower estimates of soil carbon sequestration than the Rodale institute has produced; 1000 kg/ha/year is the highest level of carbon sequestration in Dr. Lal's data.)

A recent review of research on soil carbon sequestration, New Considerations for Climate Change Dynamics and Mitigation, demonstrates that soil restoration holds great promise for massive, quick and permanent carbon sequestration of the magnitudes necessary to reverse CO2 buildup and bring us back to 350 ppm or lower within a time frame necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change. If we could begin restoring soils tomorrow, we could draw down atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 335 ppm by 2020. The review concludes, “It is arguable that the most effective climate change policy could simply be to revise farm bills that currently encourage soil loss, and instead provide incentives for soil replenishment, and hence, carbon capture.”

Today, organic food represents only 3.5% of total grocery sales. Overall, certified organic cropland and pasture accounted for about 0.5% of total US farmland in 2005 (the most recent year for which data is available), with 8,493 certified organic producers. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, in 2007, there were 10,159 certified organic producers.

Ten to 20% annual growth is a measure of the success of consumer demand for organic, but it also shows the limitations of relying on the market alone. OCA believes we must demand government policies that push a mass transition to organic as soon as possible. The Organic Alternative is neither fad, nor fashion, but rather a question of life or death.

Dannon and Yoplait Will Dump rBGH

For over ten years, OCA and our allies have led the charge against recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) and other GE foods and ingredients. Although rBGH is not allowed on organic farms and is banned in most of the industrialized world because of its threat to both animal and human health, this cruel and dangerous drug is still widely used in the US. But ongoing consumer pressure is causing a growing number of companies to ditch the drug.

Adding to a host of rBGH related grassroots victories in 2008 (Starbucks, Caribou, Cabot cheese, Subway and others), OCA and its allies welcomed 2009 with two new success stories when both Dannon and Yoplait announced they were going rBGH-free. With your help, OCA and its allies will continue our campaign until rBGH is driven completely off the market.

Coming Clean CampaignOCA Study Finds Less Carcinogens in Body Care Products

OCA released a second study in early March, following up on our 2008 expose, that assesses hazardous levels of the unlabeled carcinogen contaminant 1,4-dioxane in leading conventional as well as "natural" and "organic" brands of personal care and household cleaning products. The results indicate significant improvement for 23 products from 16 major brands that OCA had previously exposed last year as containing potentially dangerous levels of 1,4-dioxane. In other words, thanks to ongoing pressure from the OCA and its network, some of the best-selling personal care products on the market have been reformulated to be safer for human health and the environment.

Organic Victory Garden Planted at White House

Shortly after the inauguration of President Obama, OCA and allies called on supporters to ask the White House to symbolically convert a portion of its lawn into a vegetable garden. From 1800 until the 1950s, US Presidents utilized the yard surrounding the White House to produce a portion of their own food. This practice was discontinued when the new era of chemical-intensive agriculture and factory farms swept the nation. In a major, albeit symbolic, victory for organic and local food activists, First Lady Michelle Obama responded to thousands of organic consumers and broke ground for the White House's first organic kitchen garden since the Roosevelt Administration.

Mars Candy Company Takes Step Forward

Nearly half of the world's conventional chocolate comes from exploited farmers and child labor on Africa's Ivory Coast. Over the past four years, OCA supporters have sent more than 100,000 emails to leading candy manufacturers to demand more ethically sourced products. In mid-April, Mars, Inc. responded by announcing a commitment to source 100,000 metric tons of cocoa certified by the Rainforest Alliance annually for use in Mars products.

Although OCA is not satisfied with the industry-friendly standards and enforcement of the Rainforest Alliance, we see signs of progress, and will continue to push Mars and other chocolate companies toward stronger labor standards, organic certification and a commitment to ban sugar from Genetically Modified Organisms in its products.

EPA Mandates Endocrine Disruptor Tests

After years of public education and campaigning by OCA and our allies, the EPA is requiring pesticide manufacturers to test a number of widely used chemicals to determine if they disrupt the endocrine system. Over the next two years, 67 chemicals commonly used in pesticides will be tested, and after a year of assessment, recommendations will be made. Thanks to all who have taken part in our Action Alerts to drive dangerous pesticides and farm chemicals off the market!

OCA Pressures Obama and Vilsack

In late 2008, OCA began a campaign to convince the Obama administration to shift USDA priorities and resources toward organics and support for healthy food, Fair Trade, childhood nutrition, and family farms. With over 100,000 emails, petition signatures, and phone calls from organic consumers, we're seeing results:

  • President Obama's budget plan includes a $1 billion/year increase in funding for child nutrition programs including school lunches.
  • Secretary Vilsack called for government support for farmers using alternative energy, and for those converting to organic farming practices.
  • Vilsack also called for cuts in taxpayer subsidy payments to large corporate farms.
  • Vilsack pledged the USDA's support in ending racial discrimination in the farm sector, specifically condemning past discrimination in limiting credit opportunities for African-American farmers.
  • USDA's National Organic Program has cracked down on companies spiking organic fertilizer with prohibited synthetic additives.
  • The President has guaranteed at least $500 million for the Green Jobs Act.

Victory for Farmworkers and Domestic Fair Trade!

OCA believes a healthy and sustainable food system depends upon respect for farmers, workers, animals, and the environment. Unfortunately, labor laws in the US do little to protect the nation's two million farmworkers, some of the most exploited and vulnerable members of our society.

Last fall, OCA provided support for the United Farm Workers' (UFW) successful campaign for worker justice at Beef Northwest, the beef feedlot company that fattens cattle for Country Natural Beef, the most popular brand of natural beef in the US. In an unprecedented alliance with the UFW and the Teamsters, OCA launched a marketplace pressure and consumer education campaign that lasted several months, organizing picket lines, leafleting, and sending thousands of emails to Whole Foods in 35 states.

In November, Beef Northwest, under pressure from its customers, including Whole Foods Market and Bon Appetit, capitulated to the desires of organic consumers and 80% of its feedlot workers, and recognized the UFW union.

This victory marks a historic milestone in OCA's campaign to eliminate labor exploitation and support workers' rights in the $60 billion organic and natural foods sector.

Learn More at the OCA News Archives:

Long Overdue & Badly Needed

Organic Food in Schools

Kids in GardenImportant legislation will come before Congress this year that could set the US on a path to reversing job loss, mitigating climate change, securing food safety, eliminating diet-related diseases, improving educational achievement, reviving local economies, cleaning the air and water, and reducing cruelty to animals.

This is how it would work: The Child Nutrition Act could mandate $30 billion a year to provide 30 million children school meals prepared in school kitchens from organic food grown in school gardens or bought from local farms. (To put the price tag in perspective, the national estimated cost of obesity is $123 billion per year.)

The bill, which has yet to be introduced, is the once-every-5-years Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization, an opportunity to change what kids eat at school and where it comes from, and raise a generation of kids who understand good nutrition and the value of locally produced, fresh, organic food.

The current school meals program is what Alice Waters calls a “junk-food distribution system”. The government buys the surplus from the worst factory farms with the best political connections and “donates” it to the school lunch program (paid for, of course, by Federal taxes). The so-called donation comes along with all of the externalized costs of supporting industrial rather than organic agriculture.

Please help the Organic Consumers Fund, the voice of organic consumers in the Nation's Capitol, transform the Child Nutrition Act by convincing Congress that organic agriculture is necessary.Click here for Action Alets.

-Alexis Baden-Mayer

US Government Facts: Children's Chemical and Pesticide Exposure via Food Products

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Academy of Sciences, standard chemicals are up to ten times more toxic to children than to adults, depending on body weight. This is because children take in more toxic chemicals relative to body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that are more vulnerable and less able to detoxify toxic chemicals.

According to EPA's “Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment,” children receive 50% of their lifetime cancer risks in their first two years.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), half of produce currently tested in grocery stores contains measurable residues of pesticides. Laboratory tests of eight industry-leader baby foods reveal the presence of 16 pesticides, including three carcinogens.

In blood samples of children aged 2-4, concentrations of pesticide residues are 6 times higher in children eating conventionally farmed fruits and vegetables compared with those eating organic food.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, organophosphate pesticides (OP) are now found in the blood of 95% of Americans tested. OP levels are twice as high in blood samples taken from children than in adults. Exposure to OPs is linked to hyperactivity, behavior disorders, learning disabilities, developmental delays and motor dysfunction. OPs account for half of the insecticides used in the US.

The US Centers for Disease Control reports that one of the main sources of pesticide exposure for US children comes from food.

The USDA strictly prohibits mixing different types of pesticides for disposal, due to the well known process of the individual chemicals combining into new highly toxic chemical compounds. There are no regulations regarding pesticide mixture on a consumer product level, even though, in a similar manner, those same individual pesticide residues interact and mix together into new chemical compounds when conventional multiple ingredient products are made. 62% of food products tested contain a measurable mixture of residues of at least three different pesticides.

Over 400 chemicals can be regularly used in conventional farming as biocides to kill weeds and insects. For example, apples can be sprayed up to 16 times with 36 different pesticides. None of these chemicals are present in organic foods.

Over 300 synthetic food additives are allowed by the FDA in conventional foods. None of these are allowed in foods that are USDA certified organic.

Compiled by Craig Minowa. Footnotes are available on a PDF which can be downloaded here.
A Message From the Director

Warm greetings from the staff and volunteers of the Organic Consumers Association.

I'm writing from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where OCA's sister organization, Via Organica, or The Organic Way, operates a beautiful organic farm, farm school, organic food store, and eco-tourism lodge.

Hopefully some of you will be able to visit the Via Organica this summer or fall, either on one of OCA's tours, or on your vacation. (See our Tours webpage or contact OCA to book your reservation.) This is a wonderful opportunity for OCA to network, educate, and raise funds for our work.

To investigate how a nation, 90 miles from Florida, has switched completely to organic, OCA Campaign Director Ryan Zinn and I will be travelling with a group of organic activists on an OCA/Global Exchange delegation to Cuba. We plan to meet with organic farmers and grassroots urban agriculture activists to see how Cuba has coped with economic depression, climate change, and severe energy shortages, by shifting the nation's agriculture to organic farming and by creating over 100,000 urban gardens - which supply most of Cuba's food. Our e-newsletter, Organic Bytes, and the OCA website will report on this trip.

In June I will attend the All Things Organic conference in Chicago, where OCA will deliver our perennial message to the organic industry: that we must simultaneously safeguard strict organic standards and organic integrity while moving ASAP to make organic the norm, rather than just the green alternative in American agriculture. We are especially concerned that large companies such as White Wave/Silk, Whole Foods Market, United Natural Foods, Peace Cereal, and many more are increasingly marketing or advertising conventional foods (so-called natural foods with little or no certified organic ingredients) in a way that makes them appear to be organic or almost organic - using the economic recession as an excuse to lower standards.

To fulfill our essential mission OCA needs your support. In these distressed economic times, we need and appreciate your donations more than ever. If you can afford to do so, please send us a tax-deductible donation. Thank you so much for your support.

Regards & Solidarity,
Ronnie Cummins, OCA National Director

Help build solidarity between US & Mexican Organic Movements

OCA Announces Summer Study Tours in the Central Highlands of Mexico

Via OrganicaThe Organic Consumers Association invites you to join other organic activists this summer at the organic farm and eco-center of our sister organization, Via Organica - The Organic Way - in the central highlands of Mexico. Meet OCA Director Ronnie Cummins, Farm Manager Luc Monzies, and other staff members and activists during these seven-day study tours at the Via Organica Farm School & Conference Center outside San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. This unforgettable experience will inspire and energize you, providing tools, contacts, and knowledge for the challenges ahead. OCA has the good fortune to be care-taking this idyllic farm and conference center. Proceeds from these tours will help fund our ongoing work.

Situated on twenty acres of organic farmland with natural thermal springs, dotted with palm trees, fruit trees, agave, and mesquite, overlooking the beautiful Rio Laja River, just north of the Spanish colonial city of San Miguel de Allende, the Via Organica Farm was built in the early 1990s. A resort by design, Via Organica's buildings are made of adobe and stone. A number of the buildings feature Huasteca-style palapa thatched roofs.

Via Organica is the ideal locale for recharging your batteries, with a thermal swimming pool, nearby hiking, and expansive gardens, as well as a unique opportunity to learn about organic farming, green building, natural medicine, and community organizing from OCA's expert staff.

Via Organica's tours will empower you to take the next steps to create a truly sustainable future

Tour Details
  • Cost of the seven-day Via Organica tour is $950 per person for a shared room (does not include round-trip airfare to Leon/Guanajuato airport).
  • Private rooms are available for an additional $300 per week.
  • All days begin with an organic breakfast at Via Organica, and include afternoon and evening organic meals at various locations, as noted.
  • All proceeds from the farm and tours go to the Organic Consumers Association.
  • To find out more about an OCA/Via Organica tour or to plan a custom tour for your group, please call our office at 218-226-4164
Seven-Day Tours Include:
  • Organic Farming & Green Building Workshops with OCA/Via Organica Staff and Mexican Organic Activists
  • Fresh Organic Meals, Beautiful Accommodations, Thermal Swimming Pool
  • Biking, Hiking, and Horse-Back Riding
  • Visits to Organic Farms, Stores, Restaurants, Green Buildings, and Community Organizing Projects
  • Visits to the World Heritage sites and other attractions in nearby San Miguel de Allende and Atotonilco

Member Comments

I love you guys! I recommend you to everyone I know as my most trusted and valuable news source. Hang in there! - Jacques in CA

I'm on over 20 progressive lists… and have been tracking their plethora of "alerts." OCA is a model of internet communication/action. Your weekly newsletter is informative in enough depth to let me actually understand what's going on, and you limit your alerts to real emergencies. -Elizabeth in OR

I hope this modest amount helps in the cause. I believe in OCA! -Elaine in GA

Profound content - keep it coming!! -Kristen in WI

This is a lot for us to give, but you people do very important work, and we really feel good helping out. -Carol in VT

Keep up the good fight! Thanks for protecting us and our children! -Madeline in CO

I am so pleased with your action letter on HB2121. It's exactly the kind of specific, informed, point-by-point explanation of what is wrong with the bill along with the statistics to back up your stance. Many thanks for such thorough representation and for helping me to make informed decisions. Best of the activism letters I've ever participated in!
-Melanie in WV

I am so proud of all of you! You have the admiration of this one individual in the general public. -William in VA

Thank you for your vital work! -Bunny in VT

Your organization keeps me informed and for that I am always grateful and try, to the best of my abilities, to do my part. Thank you. -Kyrie in NY

We are very happy to support OCA for your outstanding work. -Vijay in CO

I am shocked to learn about the tomfoolery in the beauty care business - the deception and misuse of the terms organic, natural, etc. 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 in WA

Weaning the world against chemicalization of agriculture and opting for organic agriculture including animal husbandry is a topmost and urgent priority for the safety and security of all forms of life on earth. Human population in the world is the minutest fraction of the total living organisms of both plant and animal origin and therefore human species can not be allowed to destroy the quality of life of other organisms for any reason. It is in this context that OCA deserves utmost appreciation and unconditional support all over the world. My hearty congratulations to OCA. -Kunuthur Srinivasa, Freelance Consultant on Organic Agriculture, India

Great online newsletter. Appreciate the layout, easy to take action where we agree it's needed. Thanks for your work. -Paula Williams in NY

Looking forward to your newsletter every time! I know it sounds like cliche, but please keep up the good work! -Boglar in NH

  • 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 - Political Director
  • Ronnie Cummins - National Director
  • Wayne Frame - Accountant
  • Andrew Flanagan - Web Editor
  • Nick Lethert - Graphic & Web Design
  • Maya Lucas - School Coordinator
  • Craig Minowa - Editor & Scientist
  • Luc Monzies - Farm Manager
  • Casey Oppenheim - General Counsel
  • Honor Schauland - Web Editor
  • Chris Smith - Administrative Assistant
  • Steve Urow - Systems Programmer
  • Liz Welch - Illustration, Outreach
  • Rose Welch - General Manager
  • Ryan Zinn - Campaign Director
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By Phone: 218-226-4164
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6771 South Silver Hill Drive - Finland, MN 55603