This is the second of a two-part series about fraud in organic. Also, please be sure to follow us on LinkedIn and Instagram, and you can support our work by forwarding this email to your colleagues and having them subscribe. Thank you!
For consumers who believe that the USDA organic seal ensures a certain level of uniformity in how products are grown — not an unreasonable assumption — they are sadly mistaken. And some would say, they are being deceived.
More blatant cases of fraud occur when companies misrepresent products as organic. Such is the case with the two examples that we profiled in the last newsletter — Belcampo labeling meat and chicken as organic when the company knew it was conventional, and the massive issue of imported grains from the Black Sea region mislabeled as organic.
Unfortunately, this issue of organic consumers not receiving the product they think they are purchasing extends far beyond intentional fraud, as there is a vast discrepancy in production methods across many sectors of organic, particularly with eggs, dairy and poultry.
After all, there is a reason why The Cornucopia Institute puts out an Organic Dairy Scorecard and an Organic Egg Scorecard — because not all organic milk or organic eggs are the same. This also holds true for organic berries, tomatoes and greens, some of which are grown in soil and some of which are grown hydroponically.
The question then becomes whether the government has the will to rectify the situation and ban illegal growing methods, such as hydroponics.
Several individuals from the Real Organic Project recently met with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to address this very issue. The meeting came about after sending him a letter, which was signed by 42 former National Organic Standards Board members, outlining their grave concern about the direction of the National Organic Program.
Dave Chapman, co-director of the Real Organic Project (ROP), gave the following assessment of their meeting. (You can read his full takeaway here.)
We met for forty-five minutes. We found Tom Vilsack to be courteous, respectful, intelligent and very well-informed, and he was very familiar with the issues we were discussing.
By the end of the meeting, it was clear to us that those at the Real Organic Project shouldn’t quit their day jobs.
We saw that the Secretary actually could not or would not solve these problems. It wasn’t personal. It wasn’t a question of getting a “better” person in the job. We were not dealing with a person who lacked the courage to get it done. We were dealing with a system that was operating exactly as it was designed to operate. We were dealing with powerful forces like the lobbyists. Like the National Pork Producers Council. Like the Office of Budget and Management (OMB). Vilsack made clear that no matter what the USDA signed off on, nothing would happen without OMB support as well. Vilsack also has to assuage powerful Senators (of both parties) some of whom support CAFO (confinement) poultry being certified as organic. He has to deal with powerful industry lobbies that, with the support of the government, are redefining “organic.”
THERE IS HOPE
It is very easy to read stories about fraud in organic, not to mention the lack of support from the government, and get discouraged. Yet, there is real reason for hope.
In the U.S., “we” are the government. The people who run our country do so because we elected these officials into power and gave them the authority to oversee the day-to-day operations of our nation.
The reason that the National Organic Program is not being managed in the way that many of us believe it should is because “we” are not doing our part by getting involved and holding these leaders accountable. As such, there are plenty of well-funded lobbyists to fill this vacuum and shape agricultural policy, to the detriment of organic.
The reality is that organic is a victim of its own success. The number of individuals who are content to eat pesticide-laden, genetically-modified foods is decreasing by the day. Therefore, it is a near-guarantee that organic will continue to grow each year, with organic brands getting acquired or going public for hundreds of millions or billions of dollars.
This financial success has made it such that keeping a close eye on standards and enforcement is just not a serious priority for most of the industry. As a result, we have the organic system we have today.
The good news is that all of this can change, and it does not require mobilizing tens of thousands of people. All we have to do is look at the Real Organic Project (ROP) as evidence — a non-profit that was formed only a few years ago.
Despite the fact that ROP operates on a bare-bones budget and is led by a handful of small organic farmers, the group’s sheer determination and unwavering commitment to protect the integrity of organic has resulted in it becoming one of the industry’s most influential organizations; so much so that that it now has a direct line of communication with Secretary Vilsack, he responded to the group’s letter within 24 hours, and 1,000 organic farms are expected to have received ROP certification by the end of 2021.
The USDA organic seal could accurately represent a uniform level of production methods and ensure high-quality organic products that consumers expect, but only if we all decide that it is important enough.
Max Goldberg, Founder
The USDA announced the other day that it will take another look at the organic animal welfare rules, which were tossed out by the Trump administration.
The organic and Non-GMO baby and toddler food brand raised $7M from CircleUp Growth Partners, Wild Ventures, Thrive Market's Nick Green and Gunnar Lovelace, and other individuals.
At the Organic Trade Association's annual membership meeting, Secretary Vilsack announced, among other things, the re-establishment of the position of USDA Organic Policy Advisor and “tens of millions of dollars” more for the USDA’s Organic Certification Cost Share program.
In a very smart acquisition, Once Upon a Farm has purchased direct-to-consumer frozen organic baby and toddler brand Raised Real for an undisclosed sum.
A good overview of the current market situation and legal uncertainty surrounding CBD supplements and food.
According to Cargill's new ChocoLogic study, 75% of consumers see chocolate as a reward, 72% say it is a mood booster and 59% believe it increases their energy.
After the Congressional subcommittee report alleging "dangerously high" levels of lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic in select baby food products, Plum Organics, Happy Family Organics, Earth's Best and others have been hit with lawsuits.
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