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Federal Food Policy
A s the rate of cancer continues to escalate, and with an obesity epidemic in the United States, people are turning toward healthier diets and lifestyles in hopes of enhancing their longevity. Awareness about food’s nutritional content is also on the rise—many people are concerned with the quality and content of their food. As these interests have grown, so has the organic food movement. Organics, as the general definition puts it, are products that are not genetically modified, and are developed without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or hormones.
In 1973, after the United States banned DDT, the underground organics industry grew almost overnight. With growing awareness of what DDT did to human and environmental health, consumers were growing wary of the corporate agricultural industry. People flocked to the land and planted crops on their own or joined food co-ops where they could grow and trade products among a community of like-minded people. The market soon reacted to this growing demand for organic foods and by the 1990s companies that produced organics estimated sales of more than $1 billion annually.
Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in 1990, which was attached to the Farm Bill, establishing the initial framework for National Organic Standards. OFPA mandated the formation of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), which was organized to advise the secretary of Agriculture in setting the standards for the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP). NOSB based its recommendations on industry consensus and organic advocates were pleased. The next step, however, was a bit more cumbersome. Turning USDA’s organic standards into rules and regulations took some intense lobbying. In October 2002 the USDA officially began labeling as “organic” products with 95 percent organic content or higher.
Today, attempting to define what the USDA considers organic is like trying to figure out which lie George W. Bush told last. Since 2002 the USDA keeps changing its definition, so today’s products labeled organic may not have been labeled the same in 2003. This sort of wavering has been met with criticism from organic food advocates who believe the USDA should stick to the standards it agreed to in 1990. Others, mostly industry CEOs, still believe USDA’s labeling is too stringent. And why wouldn’t they?
“Certification is becoming big business,” writes Hilary Chop for Alternatives Journal. “Accredited certification agencies are becoming for-profit enterprises instead of farmer and consumer run organizations. This raises the potential for conflict of interests, particularly since farms pay the certifying agency based on their acreage. If a mega-farm wants an exception from the rules, it can be all too tempting for the enforcing officer who receives a commission, to make allowances.”
In April 2004, after intense lobbying efforts by agri-industry giants like ConAgra and Monsanto, the USDA proposed new rules that would have allowed USDA-certified organic farms to use fertilizers and pesticides that contain “unknown” ingredients—rather, ingredients that could not be identified by either the grower or the inspector. Also on the butcher block were USDA-certified organic dairy cows. Until 2004 organic certified cows could not be fed any antibiotics or non-organic feed. That changed fast, as the desire for organic products grew, so did awareness among the big-agriculture folks who lobbied until they succeeded. Luckily, organic activists didn’t back down. There was a public outcry and, in May 2004, the USDA retracted their proposed changes. If they hadn’t reversed their plea, USDA-certified cows could have been administered antibiotics or fed non-organic fishmeal, made with synthetic preservatives and potentially contaminated by mercury and PCBs.
On December 13, 2005 the U.S. Senate passed the 2006 Appropriations Bill, which further weakened labeling standards. Young dairy cows can now be treated with antibiotics and fed genetically engineered feed. Not only that, numerous synthetic food additives and processing agents can now be used. In case of “emergency decrees,” or a shortage of organic goods (shortage is determined by the USDA, not the U.S. public), loopholes now exist in the federal statutes that allow for the substitution of non-organic ingredients without any public notification or oversight. The new changes are a result of a recent fight over USDA standards that began heating up in 2002 when organic blueberry farmer Arthur Harvey of Maine filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for allowing products containing synthetic ingredients to be sold as “organic.” Harvey contended that the USDA’s organic standards were ambiguous, thereby undermining consumer organic goods and confidence in USDA labels.
In January 2005 the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Harvey’s favor. The court mandated that the USDA had one year to re-write their regulations. It looked like a win for the organic community. “The decision said that synthetic substances were not permitted in any type of product labeled as organic,” Joe Mendelson, legal director for the Center for Food Safety, told reporters after the decision. Such products could not be labeled with the official green USDA “organic” stamp of approval.
But when big money is involved, justice won’t often prevail. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who had stood up for organic standards in the past, inserted language in the Agriculture Appropriations Bill of 2006 countering Mendelson. “The Harvey case could have major impacts on the future of the organic industry, both for producers and processors,” Leahy said. “That is why I added language to the Senate bill instructing USDA to study the implications of the decision and report back to Congress. I believe a deliberative process to achieve consensus within the organic community would have been more appropriate.” Leahy received over $32,000 from agribusiness during the 2004 election cycle.
The amendment had been opposed by many organic food growers, as well as public health officials, environmental organizations, the National Grocers Association, the National Organic Coalition, the Rural Advancement Foundation, Beyond Pesticides, the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Organic Consumers Association, among others.
This is where the Organic Trade Association (OTA) comes into the picture. The OTA represents virtually all the companies hoping to turn a profit in the organic foods market. According to the OTA’s number crunching, had rules of the Harvey case gone into effect, 25 percent of organic manufacturers would have left the business, which they estimated would account for almost $758 million in lost sales per year. OTA also argued that 20 percent of organic farmers would have had to abandon their farming methods.
Not surprisingly, it was industry Goliaths like General Mills and Dean Foods who, along with others, opposed the ruling. The entrance of such big names into the organic market is a good indication that organic foods have been corporatized. Examples of the corporate influx include:
- McDonald’s restaurants in the Northeast will be carrying organic fair-trade coffee
- General Mills owns Cascadian Farms and the popular organic Muir Glen brand
- Kraft, which is owned by Phillip Morris, owns Boca, a popular soy burger company
Dean Foods, the dairy giant, owns White Wave and Silk soymilks,
as well as Horizon
As the organic food industry has matured, USDA standards have waned. The result is that consumers can no longer be confident their foods meet organic standards even if the USDA gives its green mark of approval.
Joshua Frank is the author of Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press).
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.