In Iowa last week, the Organic Farmers Association and Iowa Organic Association held their 2019 Presidential Forum — “Combating Climate Change with Organic and Regenerative Agriculture” — an event to which all Democratic candidates were invited.
The only one who attended was Senator Bernie Sanders.
According to Kate Mendenhall, Executive Director of the Organic Farmers Association, “We had been talking with the candidates since the spring, trying to get them on an organic farm and have them learn more about the impact that organic farming has had on the local communities. We came up with an idea for a forum, but it was just not a priority for most of them. However, we were thrilled that Senator Sanders came.”
During his talk, Bernie Sanders promised that the organic community will have a friend in the White House if he is elected.
He went on to discuss several key initiatives that are on his agenda, including taking care of family farms instead of the environmentally-destructive CAFOs, appointing an attorney general who will break up the agribusiness monopolies, enforcing organic standards and paying farmers to capture carbon from the environment.
Yet, when it came to the specific policies or regulations plaguing the organic industry, Senator Sanders did not have a good grasp of them. A review of the candidates’ released policy statements suggests that had they been in attendance, it is very likely they would have been in the same position.
The wonderful thing about being in a democracy is that we the people get to participate in the selection of our next government.
So, if any Organic Insider reader is able to interact with the candidates in the weeks and months ahead, here are a few key talking points to address with them:
* Fraudulent imported grains from abroad remains a major issue, which was exposed by The Washington Post’s investigation. While Congress has dedicated additional funds to address this, by no means has the problem gone away.
* The USDA continues to illegally allow hydroponics in organic. This is a clear and utter violation of Section 6513 of the Organic Foods Production Act and has left soil-based organic farmers with a severe competitive disadvantage.
* We have an origin of livestock rule – a rule that governs organic dairy – that is full of loopholes and lacks clarity. Not only is it driving many organic dairy farmers into financial ruin, but consumers are not getting the high quality of organic milk that they expect.
* ‘Organic Factory Farms’ exist and must be closed down. Animals are not getting adequate access to pasture and are living in very cramped conditions.
* Since the next president will oversee the USDA, we need a secretary of this agency who will protect organic stakeholders and ensure that the National Organic Standards Board is able to fulfill its mission.
The overarching problem in organic has to do with enforcement, something that Bernie Sanders said was on his agenda. The rules are just not being enforced, and both organic farmers and consumers are paying a steep price.
Things have gotten so bad that two new add-on organic labels — Regenerative Organic Certification and The Real Organic Project — will launch in 2020, largely as a result of the USDA not doing its job. And because of this, the USDA organic certification could lose its status as the gold standard in organic.
While the turnout in Iowa may have been much smaller than many of us would have hoped, there is good news.
Not only do we have time to educate the remaining candidates about the challenges that organic is facing, but we were given a clear signal that our message must be very specific and detailed.
Max Goldberg, Founder
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* The Organic & Natural Health Association’s 5th Annual Conference is taking place on January 29-31, 2020 in Captiva Island, FL.
* The second Real Organic Project Symposium will be held at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire on April 3-4, 2020.
* Actress and Foodstirs co-founder Sarah Michelle Gellar shares her recipe for organic sweet tooth melted snowmen sugar cookies.
* White Leaf Provisions has become the first shelf-stable Glyphosate Residue Free certified baby food line in the U.S.
* A global coalition of advocacy and education groups has released an International Guide to Fair Trade Labels.
* Not surprisingly, this $100M resort in Fiji has an organic garden.
* Sonoma State University has banned all glyphosate-based chemicals on campus, including Roundup.
* Living Earth Market in Worcester, MA is closing its doors after 49 years.
* Who owns your grocery store?