* In what has never been done before, The Cornucopia Institute has released a scorecard of organic certifiers.
* Organic certifiers, which have largely been shielded from scrutiny up until this point, may face extreme pressure for certifying hydroponic and ‘factory farm’ operations. Brands could face consumer backlash as well.
* This has quickly become one of the industry’s most important developments.
As the industry grapples with two of its biggest challenges — both hydroponics and ‘factory farms’ being allowed in organic — the USDA has been singled out as bearing full responsibility for either misinterpreting, not enforcing or not creating a clear set of rules in the marketplace.
While the USDA is certainly to blame for many of the industry’s regulatory issues, one group of industry stakeholders — organic certifiers — has largely avoided any significant backlash.
In an unprecedented move, The Cornucopia Institute has just released an organic certifier scorecard which identifies the organizations that are approving both hydroponic and ‘factory farm’ operations for organic certification.
“The system is being gamed on every level, and people who follow the rules do so because of their own personal ethics. Some certifiers are complicit in the watering down of organic, and we are going to hold them accountable for their actions,” said Mark Kastel, co-founder of The Cornucopia Institute.
WHY SHOULD WE CARE?
Whether it is hydroponics being allowed in organic — a complete violation of the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 — or the USDA failing to establish a clear set of rules in organic dairy operations, small organic farmers are being put out of business because they are forced to compete on an unfair playing field. Furthermore, the integrity of the organic seal is being damaged in the process.
While legal action is being taken against the USDA to rectify the situation, dozens of organic certifiers are making a judgment call as to whether these operations are truly organic and represent the ideals on which this industry was founded. Some are granting certification, others are not.
For those organic brands and farmers who are committed to protecting organic, this scorecard gives them insight into the actions of their organic certifier and allows them to ask the question, “Am I supporting an organic certifier — either directly or via a co-packer — that is weakening or strengthening our industry?”
And as organic companies eagerly embrace regenerative agriculture because of its ability to improve soil health and mitigate climate change, these brands now face an additional moral dilemma.
They may start asking themselves how they can espouse regenerative organic agriculture while financially supporting and partnering with an organic certifier who is allowing hydroponics and factory farms. After all, there is nothing regenerative about growing tomatoes in a bucket of water or allowing thousands of cattle to roam on small patches of dirt, completely devoid of grass.
PLENTY OF PUSHBACK
While consumers, brands and farmers may be in favor of complete transparency, this sentiment is apparently not shared among all certifiers.
“There has been an orchestrated attempt among certifiers not to participate in Cornucopia’s survey, which is hardly surprising given that some people are making serious money based on the status quo. Three of the biggest certifiers — QAI, Oregon Tilth and CCOF — have refused to respond to us and have encouraged smaller certifiers to ‘stand together.’ What is it that they do not want the industry to know?” asked Mark Kastel.
Cornucopia claims that the feedback from farmers and companies has been overwhelmingly positive, with some farmers already switching certifiers and a few of the largest organic brands considering doing the same.
What makes this organic certification system so challenging is that it was designed from the very beginning for operations to pay their certifier to grant them organic certification — something that creates an inherent conflict of interest.
“The NOP (National Organic Program) process is not working as designed, and we are now operating with, essentially, two organic labels. One gives us milk that comes from cows who eat grass and have plenty of access to pasture. The other gives us milk from factory feedlot dairies managing 22,000 head of cattle, where animals live very stressed lives, have little to no access to pasture, and eat feed imported from China or Kazakhstan,” said Mark Kastel.
Organic brands who ignore this issue may do so at their own risk.
Cornucopia intends to soon launch a campaign targeted at consumers, informing and educating them about which organic certifiers are acting in good faith and which ones are not.
So, even if a company has nothing to do with dairy or hydroponics, simply being aligned with an organic certifier who allows these operations could impact its brand equity.
Given the USDA’s lack of cooperation when it comes to enforcing the rules, this scorecard has quickly become one of the industry’s most important developments, and Organic Insider will be covering it extensively in the months and years ahead.
Two dairy farms, both of which have received organic certification — Alexandre Family Farm (top) and Shamrock Farms (bottom).
(Photos courtesy of The Cornucopia Institute.)
Max Goldberg, Founder
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* On April 5-6 in NYC, Beyond Pesticides will be hosting the 37th National Pesticide Forum – Organic Strategies for Community Environmental Health. On Saturday, April 6th, Ground War — a documentary about the world of golf, chemical lobbying, and citizen activism — will be shown.
* Numi Organic Tea’s Numi Foundation received a $75,000 donation from Presence Marketing ($50,000) and Presence Marketing’s co-founder Bill Weiland ($25,000) to help fund clean drinking water for communities in need, local community programs, and arts education for war orphans in Iraq.
* Organic baby food company Once Upon a Farm has rolled out its first-ever national media campaign called “As Fresh As It Gets.”
* Organic, CBD-infused pizza will be coming soon.
* An all-organic cafe called La La Land Kind Cafe, which employs former foster kids, opened in Dallas on Monday.
* Well-known urban farmer Will Allen has launched an organic CBD business.
* NY-based organic burger chain Burger Village is opening its first location in California.
* Podcast of the Week: Tim Ferriss interviews Nick Kokonas — How to Apply World-Class Creativity to Business, Art, and Life.
* I did not want this 3-hour interview to end. So fascinating and inspiring.