Beware Corporate Agribusiness in Sheep’s Farmers’ Clothing
Recently, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) announced that they are forming a “Farmer Advisory Council.” This comes at a time when the OTA has received widespread, sharp criticism from organic farmers and ranchers and the organizations that represent them.
The OTA is a trade/lobby group representing, primarily, processors, marketers and retailers in the organic industry. The organization’s leadership and financing is dominated by giant agribusinesses that gain the majority of their sales and profits by selling conventional and/or “natural” food rather than certified organic products (Dean Foods/WhiteWave, General Mills, Smuckers, Groupe Danone, Campbell’s, Kellogg’s, etc.) and giant corporations more focused on organics (Earthbound Farms, UNFI and Hain Celestial).
To lift the veil and see “Who Owns Organics” please click here:
These are powerful corporate players that buy commodities from real organic farmers.
The OTA and some of its members have repeatedly been accused of selling-out the values that the organic movement was founded upon and diluting the working definition of the organic label by supporting gimmicky synthetics in organic foods, de facto confinement of organic livestock and, more recently, promulgating a sophisticated legislative scheme in Washington that will result in an organic “check-off,” taxing farmers to, in part, fund industry public relations efforts.
In the best tradition of corporations that set up “employee councils” while fighting labor unions, or the Rockefeller family that funded the startup of the Farm Bureau Federation when other family farm groups threatened control during the robber baron period, it can reasonably be predicted that OTA’s new Farmer Advisory Council will help deflect criticism of corporate organics.
OTA’s new counsel is chaired by a farmer (and OTA board member) who has done publicity work for Dean Foods/WhiteWave when its Horizon label was receiving criticism in the media. Its co-chairperson works for United Natural Foods Incorporated, a multibillion-dollar near-monopoly engaged in organic food distribution.
And I wish I was making this up, but the council already includes members of the “Organic Egg Farmers of America.” This group is made up of large industrial egg producers, with a majority of their production in conventional eggs. They are either vertically-integrated operations, with as many as 100,000 birds in a building, or they contract with farmers. This group is anything but a farmer organization.
One of its farmer-members, Greg Herbuck, has been nominated to join the OTA board. An image below represents what the OTA must think is an “organic farm” (an operation with, reportedly, 600,000 birds — see all the room between buildings for adequate outdoor access — required by federal law).
Whether it is the explosive growth of Chinese “organic” imports, dairy CAFOs (limited pasture) and egg production from CAFO operators (with no legal outdoor access), or lobbying the USDA and Congress to loosen organic standards, the OTA and/or many of its most powerful members have a track record of weakening and undermining the organic principles that the economic success of this industry was built upon.
For more than a year, the OTA held a series of “listening sessions” around the country in an effort to sell their organic check-off scheme to industry participants. Instead of truly listening to authentic farmers, and the organizations that represent them, they have disregarded the sentiments of the most important organic stakeholders. Their Farmer Advisory Council will likely afford them a friendlier and more malleable body as an adjunct to their public relations campaigns.
The OTA’s annual dues for family-scale farmers range from $360 – $1,375. Notwithstanding their agenda, is it any wonder that the OTA has virtually no legitimate working farmers as members? Organic producers might want to think twice before lending their good name to OTA’s work.
“Real” organic farmers, and the organizations that represent them, will want to stay tuned for further developments.
Senior Farm Policy Analyst
The Cornucopia Institute
The Cornucopia Institute is engaged in research and educational activities supporting the ecological principles and economic wisdom underlying sustainable and organic agriculture. Through research and investigations on agricultural and food issues, The Cornucopia Institute provides needed information to family farmers, consumers, stakeholders involved in the good food movement and the media.
The Cornucopia Institute P.O. Box 126 Cornucopia, WI 54827 www.cornucopia.org
“Cutting the Curd” gets political with Heather Squire, the coordinator for Occupy Wall Street‘s (#OWS ) food preparation and delivery. From washing dishes to feeding over 3,000 people in a single weekend, Heather explains how she and the food team in Zucotti Park have devised a large-scale food distribution system: The Peoples Kitchen.
Delving into another facet of the food justice movement in tandem with Occupy Wall Street is dairy farmer and activist Lorraine Lewandrowsky and fromager Tia Keenan. The group discusses cheese economics and the plight for more transparency (sic) which comes from more small dairies and less industrial farming and processing. Learn how you can help this movement, from volunteering to sending food supplies or attending the Occupy Big Food movement.
- From Slow Food USA
- From Civil Eats
- From the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
- From Mother Jones
Grist Magazine, June 10, 2009
“As the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill moves forward in the House, Big Ag interest groups are circling their plows and sharpening their pitchforks. Some of the largest corporations in the agribusiness sector-including the GMO-and-herbicide giant Monsanto-are pushing to control how agriculture would fit into the bill’s cap-and-trade scheme.
The main agent for their will is House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who has launched a veritable jihad to make sure the historic climate legislation hews to the interests of “production” (i.e., industrial) agriculture. Via Farm Policy blog, here’s an MP3 clip of Peterson’s latest harumphing on Waxman-Markey, in an interview with a radio program called Agritalk, which is sponsored by Monsanto, Syngenta, and Archer Daniels Midland.”
Is this the change that you voted for?
Don’t Let Big Agribusiness Ruin Food Safety Reform
June 16th, 2009
Here’s the good news: after countless recalls, including the disastrous peanut butter-related Salmonella outbreak this winter, Congress is finally considering Congressman Waxman’s food safety bill — the bill goes to the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week. The bad news? You guessed it, big ag is pulling out all the stops to weaken the bill. Can your tell your Member of Congress you want a strong food safety bill?
Big ag will always have more money to fight these battles than we do, but we have something they don’t — thousands of activists who will contact Congress. Congress needs to hear from all of us if they are going to stand up to big ag.
Here’s what your Member of Congress needs to hear about the food safety bill:
1) The bill must include frequent inspections of food processing plants. The Peanut Corporation of America debacle showed that industry self-regulation just doesn’t cut it.
2) It must set strong standards for imports that are equal to the standards that apply to domestically produced food.
3) It must include sensible regulations that work for farmers of all sizes – that include flexibility, not one-size-fits-all rules geared toward the largest operations.
We won’t get many chances to fix our broken food safety system, so it’s critical that we stand up now and stop big ag from weakening Congressman Waxman’s food safety bill. Can you contact your Member of Congress today?
Thanks for taking action,
Alex, Sarah, Noelle and the Food Team
Food & Water Watch