Beware Corporate Agribusiness in Farmers’ Clothing

The Cornucopia Institute

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).

Members of the Farmer Advisory Council will also come from organizations that have entered into a “strategic alliance” or executed a “memorandum of understanding” with the OTA. As an example, CCOF, Inc, chartered as a trade organization and operating as a multimillion-dollar certification organization (certifying many of the nation’s largest agribusinesses/OTA members), will nominate four farmer-members to the OTA council.

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.

Best regards,
Mark Kastel
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