What has transpired in the organic industry over the last month is cause for serious concern and should force all of us to acknowledge that we need to start doing things differently. While consumer demand for organic has never been stronger, the underpinnings of our industry are fraying at the seams.
Here is what has taken place and what I think needs to be done:
* At April’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in Denver, hydroponics and container growing systems continued to hijack organic. While these methods unquestionably have value, they are not organic.
As I have written about in previous newsletters, the original intent and meaning of the Organic Food Production Act, as ratified by Congress, is that soil is an essential part of organic (See Section 6513 b-1).
By continuing to debate the exact definition of container growing systems, the NOSB is not only allowing the organic hydroponic and container growing system industry to thrive, but it is changing the very essence of organic.
In my view, this is beyond the NOSB’s scope and mission, and it is completely unacceptable. Furthermore, organic hydroponic and container growing systems go against the very nature of regenerative agriculture, a farming method which uses soil to capture carbon from the environment and is being espoused by so many of the organic industry’s leading companies.
If we are going to push for regenerative agriculture, we must demand soil solutions from our own industry.
* The Organic Animal Welfare Standards were delayed again, this time until November 14, 2017. Four options now remain on the table: keep the rule as is, suspend it indefinitely, delay the effective date or remove it entirely.
Despite a letter from more than 300 organic farmers and the Organic Trade Association urging USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to implement the rule, Big Ag is currently winning this battle and the likelihood of it being killed or delayed indefinitely appears very strong.
* The Washington Post recently published two very damaging articles, one exposing ‘organic factory farms’ for milk and the other having to do fraudulent imports of organic grains from Turkey and Ukraine.
For years, The Cornucopia Institute has been beating the drum about ‘organic factory farms’ for milk, but the USDA has done practically nothing.
In regards to fraudulent organic grains, this is another problem that has existed for many years. The USDA is well aware of this matter and it is being investigated by multiple government agencies, not just the USDA. In the meantime and with no solution on the table, U.S. organic grain farmers, who are producing crops honorably, are being pushed to the brink of bankruptcy because of a flood of fraudulent imports from abroad.
Both Washington Post articles depict an organic industry that is not being properly monitored, which has prompted The Cornucopia Institute to (again) call for the removal of Miles McEvoy, the National Organic Program’s Deputy Administrator.
If you combine all of these events together, it is painfully clear that organic is breaking down and our government is not doing its job to protect this very important sector.
The question now is whether we keep doing what we are doing — which is bringing terrible results — or do we take proactive steps to ensure different results.
WHAT TO DO
In my view, what needs to happen is that 10-20 of the most powerful CEOs in the organic industry must come together and develop a plan to address this situation. And given that Big Food either owns or has significant stakes in many influential organic brands, Big Food needs to be present at the table as well, openly fighting to protect organic.
The plan must involve constant in-person visits to USDA Secretary Perdue and Congressional leaders, and the plan must not only represent the interests of major organic players but small family farmers as well.
Hydroponics and container growing systems must be banned in organic by the USDA. We need a serious Organic Animal Welfare Standard in place, and the USDA’s National Organic Program must be held accountable to better police fraud. Additionally, there needs to be very serious consequences for organic certifiers not doing their jobs.
Unfortunately, this plan cannot be outsourced to the Organic Trade Association or a different non-profit.
And it can’t just be one person doing all of the heavy-lifting.
This will require the constant attention of many organic food CEOs, who carry significant economic clout, and a commitment to personally lobby in Washington, D.C.
Will this happen?
When leaders in the organic industry have the resolve to do something, they can make things happen. Quickly.
But it must be a collective, dedicated effort, and there must be an urgent desire to take immediate action.
Inaction puts the long-term health of organic in jeopardy.
Have a great day!
Max Goldberg, Founder
Yili Industrial Group Co., China's largest dairy group, is in the lead to purchase Stonyfield, with a rumored offer of $850m. However, Dean Foods is apparently still in the bidding.
CEO John Mackey recently named five new members to the board as a way to stave off pressure from activist hedge fund Jana Partners. Yet, with seven straight quarters of declining same-store sales, no one should expect Jana Partners to stay quiet for long.
CNN takes a close look at the lawsuits where Monsanto is being accused of failing to warn consumers that its products may cause cancer.
Beyond Pesticides has filed a lawsuit against Mott's claiming false and misleading "natural" labels were used on its applesauce products. These products were found to have contained a toxic chemical, the neonicotinoid insecticide acetamiprid.
India's biotech regulatory agency has approved Bayer's GM-mustard, which activist Vandana Shiva has called a "fraud perpetuated on nation."
An interesting look at the growth and evolution of Amanda Chantal Bacon and her LA-based Moon Juice.
Unilever has just led a $9m round in organic meal kit service Sun Basket. The company has now raised $52m since its founding.
On tour promoting his book, Whole Foods Co-Founder and CEO John Mackey talks about his lifestyle habits, the rice cooker that he travels with and the impact of e-commerce in the food world. While he is excited about the future of organic food e-commerce, he is evasive about what exactly Whole Foods will be doing in this space.
Kroger is testing out a smaller concept focused on "fresh" in Central Ohio called Fresh Eats MKT.
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* Huge kudos to the Center for Food Safety for securing a federal court ruling that declared that the Environmental Protection Agency systematically violated the Endangered Species Act – a key wildlife protection law – when it approved bee-killing insecticides. This may lead to the canceling of 59 pesticide products and registrations.
* An organic farm in Oregon is under attack and may be forced to have its farm sprayed with Monsanto’s RoundUp. Take action to stop Sherman County from spraying Azure Farms with this highly toxic chemical.
* Congrats to Danielle DuBoise and Whitney Tingle, co-founders of organic meal delivery service Sakara Life, for the fantastic press they received in the New York Times!
* If you are in San Francisco on Thursday, Minh Tsai, the founder of the country’s leading artisinal tofu brand Hodo Soy, is having a tasting event at the Asian Art Museum called Reclaiming Tofu.
* I went to Minh’s Tofu Disrupt last year in New York City, and it was one of the best food events that I have ever attended.