Welcome to the “Organic Watergate”

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Does the USDA organic label mean anything anymore? Last year, in May 2012, the Cornucopia Institute released a 75-page White Paper titled “Organic Watergate,” as well as an accompanying 20-minute video of the organization’s cofounder and Senior Farm Analyst Mark Kastel discussing this issue. Beware, both are frightening and infuriating, but necessary for all consumers to understand.

“Although not a constitutional crisis on par with what happened during the Nixon administration, the USDA’s blatant disregard for the requirements laid out in the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA), and the intent of Congress, is illegal and has inappropriately favored corporate agribusiness over the interests of ethical businesses, farmers and consumers.”

In essence, big business and the USDA are in cahoots to change the definition of “organic” to the benefit of these big agribusinesses. The report provides a cornucopia (get it!?) of information regarding this “conspiracy” through a cursory review of past technical reviews of synthetic materials (chemicals and GMOs) conducted by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) since the USDA took over regulation in 2002, which showed that the reviews of these materials were not handled appropriately. These materials were not reviewed properly before being deemed acceptable to be used in organic agriculture.

A little bit of background: when Congress passed the OFPA, it established the NOSB as an independent advisory panel, which unlike other advisory boards, would have statutory authority. So, any synthetic material used in organic food production must be reviewed and approved by the NOSB to assure that no chemicals that could pose a threat to human health or the environment are used in organic food production. The NOSB has 15 seats, the majority of which were supposed to be filled by organic farmers, consumers, scientists and environmentalists as a way to balance the power of commercial interests involved in organic food manufacturing, marketing and retail sales. But instead, these seats have been filled with agribusiness representatives, which the Cornucopia institute has labeled as “long-term abuse of congressional intent by the USDA.”

The Institute uncovered:

“A corporate and governmental conspiracy to allow almost any chemical petitioned by agribusiness in organic food, regardless of the fact that Congress mandated a review of all such substances to make sure that they will not damage the environment, or human health… It shows that if you have enough lawyers and lobbyists and a USDA that seems all too beholden to corporate interests, regardless of whether it’s under democratic or republican control, I guess you can get almost anything approved in organics.”

So what can you do as a consumer to protect yourself? Many of the chemicals that have been ushered through the review process are used in processed foods. Avoiding processed foods – organic and nonorganic – is a good rule of thumb for your health. Also, avoid purchasing products from “organic” and “natural” labels owned by large agribusinesses, as many of these parties are responsible for the approval of unnatural and nonorganic materials for use in “organic” foods. As such, they likely use these materials in their products. To protect yourself from the chemicals used in organic food production, grow your own produce! OK, OK, not the most reasonable for everyone, I know. Find a local farmer or food co-op that you can trust uses strictly organic means to produce their organic produce.


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  1. “Find a local farmer or food co-op that you can trust uses strictly organic means to produce their organic produce.” Oh, yeah, those are on every corner. Well, maybe in Oregon or someplace like that, but definitely not where I live. I can buy local or I can buy organic, but both? Forget it!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I wish there were more independent certification organization; in Europe, we have a bunch of those. Their requirements are usually very strict; a product has to be tested multiple times and most of all, retested once every year. Demeter is one of them, for instance.

    Thanks for the reminder; most of the food I buy is raw, unprocessed food but it’s important to know that not all organic is equal! Sharing this 🙂

  3. what i would like to see listed with the chemicals approved is the reason for using each one separately. the more we are educated the better