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‘Dark Forces’ Are Coming for Our Organic Food

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The Freedom Caucus is a rowdy band of GOP US House members most famous for triggering government shutdowns, pushing to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and driving former GOP Speaker John Boehner from his post on the theory he wasn’t conservative enough. And now they’re coming for your certified organic food, according to Mother Jones magazine, from which the following is excerpted.

Back in December, the Freedom Caucus released a “recommended list of regulations to remove.” Among its 228 targets—ranging from eliminating energy efficiency standards for washing machines to kiboshing rules on private drones—the group named the National Organic Program.

Operated by the US Department of Agriculture, the NOP was established by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 to set uniform national standards for foods and agricultural products labeled “USDA Organic,” replacing the patchwork of state-level standards that had held sway for decades previously. The NOP ensures that food labeled organic really is raised without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers—it also oversees USDA-accredited organic certifying agents and takes “appropriate enforcement actions if there are violations of the organic standards,” according to the USDA.

As of 2015, annual organic food sales stood at $39.7 billion, representing nearly 5 percent of total food sales. And sales for organics are growing at an 11 percent annual clip—nearly four times the rate of overall US food sales.

It’s not clear what the Freedom Caucus meant by putting the National Organic Program on a list of regulations to “remove.” The staff of US Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), the Freedom Caucus stalwart who authored the list, has not returned calls and emails asking for clarification. Organic food makes a strange target for deregulation, because organic regulations only apply to farms and food processors that voluntarily accept them. They prohibit, say, the spraying of synthetic pesticides only for a very certain kind of operation—ones that want to be certified organic.

Maybe it’s a budget-cutting move? The Freedom Caucus document claims the NOP’s “cost” stands at $256 million, without naming how it defines cost. But the NOP’s annual budget is just $9 million. And dismantling the NOP would generate massive chaos in the food market. A federally enforced, uniform, and fairly stringent set of rules would give way to a hodgepodge, leaving consumers flummoxed about what “organic” means.

The NOP’s appearance in the Freedom Caucus’ crosshairs has caused alarm in organic circles, and it’s not hard to see why. The Freedom Caucus’ zeal for deregulation is nothing new, but until a few weeks ago, the veto pen of Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate meant that the group could obstruct legislation and make plenty of trouble, but not actively legislate. Now there’s a new sheriff in town—a fast-food-eating Republican—and the GOP runs both houses of Congress. Suddenly, the Freedom Caucus has jumped from Fantasy Island to a perch quite near the center of Washington power.

Kathleen Merrigan, who served a long stint as deputy USDA secretary under Obama, has sounded the alarm. Merrigan is a canny DC operator who chooses her words carefully, and she knows the politics around organics as well as anyone.

The NOP’s appearance in the Freedom Caucus’ crosshairs has caused alarm in organic circles, and it’s not hard to see why. The Freedom Caucus’ zeal for deregulation is nothing new, but until a few weeks ago, the veto pen of Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate meant that the group could obstruct legislation and make plenty of trouble, but not actively legislate. Now there’s a new sheriff in town—a fast-food-eating Republican—and the GOP runs both houses of Congress. Suddenly, the Freedom Caucus has jumped from Fantasy Island to a perch quite near the center of Washington power.

Kathleen Merrigan, who served a long stint as deputy USDA secretary under Obama, has sounded the alarm. Merrigan is a canny DC operator who chooses her words carefully, and she knows the politics around organics as well as anyone. In addition to her recent USDA experience, she served as the head of the USDA agency that oversaw the NOP under Bill Clinton, and she helped craft the federal act that created it while working as a Senate staffer in 1990. According to a Politico account of her remarks at a food conference last week, Merrigan warned that “forces of darkness” are “coming together and saying, ‘Let’s sharpen our knives on organic.'”

Merrigan declined to be interviewed for more detail on what she meant by her “forces of darkness” remarks. She did confirm that she had the Freedom Caucus document in mind, as well as a January 12 op-ed by the father-and-son lobbyists Marshall Matz and Peter Matz, of the powerhouse DC agribusiness lobbying firm Olsson, Frank & Weeda. In recent years, Marshall Matz’s clients have included Nestlé, agrichemical-seed giant Syngenta, and FMC, which makes carrageenan, a seaweed-derived food thickener that has emerged as a controversial additive in processed organic products like almond milk.

In their op-ed, the Matzes applauded the Freedom Caucus’ naming of the NOP. But rather than call for the USDA’s oversight of organics to be nixed, they call for it to be “reformed.” They acknowledge that organic food now represents a “significant market.” And rather than focus on the NOP, the Matzes instead raised questions about another key USDA organic component, the National Organic Standards Board, a 15-member panel that, among other things, has a huge influence over what nonorganic substances can be added to organic food.

The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, as it has been known, has long been contentious terrain, pitting Big Food companies with organic subsidiaries against watchdog groups like the Cornucopia Institute. Broadly speaking, the corporations want wide leeway on additives, while the watchdog groups demand strict limits. In their op-ed, the Matzes declared that the “NOSB should leave the issue of food ingredient safety to the FDA.”

Do the Matzes mean that food companies should be able to put any additive they want into, say, organic cookies, as long as the Food and Drug Administration deems it safe? They declined to say.

So what Merrigan called the “forces of darkness” coming for organic food are indeed pretty obscure about exactly what they want. Does the Freedom Caucus really want to nix the National Organic Program to save $9 million per year? The $39.7 billion organic-food industry, whose participants include giant companies like General Mills and Nestlé-owned Gerber organic baby products—would likely push back pretty hard. But with lobbyists like the Matzes operating in Trump’s Washington—and looking reasonable compared with Freedom Caucus deregulatory zealots—the time might be ripe for making organic standards more friendly to corporations.



A new report has found that organic farmland reached 4.1 million acres in 2016, a new record and an 11 percent increase compared to 2014. And as of June, 2016, the number of certified organic farms in the U.S. reached 14,979, a 6.2 percent increase of 1,000 farms compared to 2014 survey data.

The report, from market data service Mercaris, found that the top five states in organic cropland are California, Montana, Wisconsin, New York, and North Dakota. California leads the U.S. with 688,000 acres. However, Montana has seen a 30 percent increase in organic farmland, reaching 417,000 acres in 2016, an increase of 100,000 acres since 2014 on 50 new organic farms.

North Dakota, Colorado, and New York all increased their organic acres by more than 40,000 since 2014. North Dakota has surpassed Oregon as the fifth leading state in organic acreage. Oregon is sixth followed by Colorado and Texas.

Scott Shander, an economist at Mercaris, attributes the increase in organic acres to farm economics and consumer demand for organic foods.

According to Alex Heilman, a sales associate at Mercaris, the number of organic acres is likely to continue increasing, especially with larger companies such as General Mills and Ardent Mills launching programs to increase organic acres.

Organic alfalfa/hay was the leading organic crop grown with more than 800,000 acres in 2016. This was followed by organic wheat, corn, and soybeans with 482,000, 292,000, and 150,000 acres respectively. Organic oats reached a record level of 109,000 acres in 2016. Organic wheat showed the greatest increase with nearly 150,000 more acres since 2014 and a 44 percent increase since 2011. Plantings of organic corn increased by 58,000 acres since 2014.

The percentage of acres planted to organic crops such as wheat, corn, soybeans, and oats remains small compared to conventional crops in the U.S. Organic corn accounts for only 0.31 percent of total corn acres; organic wheat was 0.9 percent of total wheat acres; organic soybeans were 0.2 percent of total soybean acres. Organic oats account for the highest percentage of an organic crop with 3.6 percent of total oat acres.

Acreage of both organic corn and soybeans has seen small increases as a percentage of total acres for both crops in the past few years, according to the report. This may be due to the fact that the U.S. is importing large amounts of organic corn and soybeans, which is depressing the U.S. market and prices for both crops. According to Shander, 25 percent of organic corn and 75 percent of organic soybeans used in the U.S. are imported.

“It’s a global market that is dictating U.S. prices,” he says. “Demand for organic corn and soybeans is still growing strongly, but production in the U.S. is not growing as fast so more of the production will be international.”



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Ronnie Cummins, International Director of the Organic Consumers Association, wants us all to get involved in his plans to resist the Trump administration. So
I’m giving him the remainder of this blog post to reach out to me and you. Here’s Ronnie:

I’ve been an activist for most of my life, starting out in the Deep South where it was not only difficult, but at times dangerous to protest war, corporate crime, and political corruption. But now after 50 years of activism, I have never seen more potential for a grassroots-powered organic and political revolution than I see right now.

That’s why I’m reaching out to you now, to ask for your help in regenerating our food and farming system, our public health and our political system.

Recently more than 5,000 people tuned in for OCA’s first national call-in to discuss how to #resist and #regenerate—in the marketplace and in the political arena—over the next four years. I believe it’s absolutely critical that we join forces to resist the Trump Administration, the business-as-usual Congress, and the corporate establishment’s attacks on our health, our environment and our democracy.

But resistance alone isn’t enough. We need to bring solutions to the table. We need to bring a message of hope—the message of Regeneration—to our fellow activists, and to our city, county and state lawmakers.

On the recent call-in, I outlined several ways we can work together to build a more powerful movement, beginning by organizing hundreds of meetups and house parties in our local communities across the country. To what end? To encourage those who are doing great work to step out of their silos, to meet each other, to share common goals, to share resources, to come up with a plan to work more effectively together. Because our best hope to create the world we want, is to harness our collective consumer and political power.

If you’d like to host or attend a Regeneration Meetup or house party in your community, please sign up for more information at www.organicconsumers.org.

We also talked about how to get more involved in city, county and state elections by joining forces with local, regional and state Our Revolution chapters. Our Revolution’s political platform, essentially the Bernie Sanders platform, is closely aligned with our own #politicalrevolution platform. If we get involved with Our Revolution’s work, we can bring the message of regeneration to the political revolution, and ensure that the next wave of city, county and state elected officials support a platform based on regeneration.

In the coming weeks and months, OCA will roll out a few key #ConsumerRevolution campaigns. I hope you’ll support these, and encourage the people you meet in local meetups, or in local Our Revolution chapters, to do the same. Details will be on our website.

When we founded the OCA 18 years ago, we never dreamed that our network would grow to over two million people in the U.S., and hundreds of thousands in Mexico. We couldn’t have predicted that together with our allies in the food and farming, natural health, climate and political movements we would be able to harness the energy, creativity and political power of tens of millions of people.

But here we are. And despite the daily doses of dismal news coming out of Washington D.C., we now face an unprecedented opportunity to create new paradigms—of regenerative food and farming, natural health, consumer activism, and grassroots-powered citizen democracy.
I hope you’ll be inspired to participate, in one form or another. Please take this opportunity to host or attend a local meetup, to join a local, regional or state Our Revolution chapter, or to make a donation to support this important work. Thank you!


Former Ag Chem Salesman to Head USDA

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Former Georgia Governor and agricultural chemical salesman Sonny Perdue is Donald Trump’s pick to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


Trump’s plan to pull a big hood over every aspect of the government continues. The USDA has been told to silence its scientists. The EPA is already on a lockdown that blocks not just any public glimpse into the organization, but blocks grants that are needed to support research and enforcement. The Interior Department has been cut off from social media.


The USDA has banned scientists and other employees in its main research division from publicly sharing everything from the summaries of scientific papers to USDA-branded tweets as it starts to adjust to life under the Trump administration, BuzzFeed News has learned.


Like many federal agencies, the USDA is responsible for research and enforcement in a great number of areas. The fact sheets it produces include everything from food safety bulletins, to commodities studies, to economic data. This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content.


A widely-read summary on farm animal welfare that the USDA regularly posted on its website has been removed. From now on, the agency says, anyone wanting to know the results of its animal welfare program must file a Freedom of Information Request.






California can require Monsanto to label its popular weed-killer Roundup as a possible cancer threat despite an insistence from the chemical giant that it poses no risk to people, a judge has tentatively ruled.


California would be the first state to order such labeling if it carries out the proposal, according to the Associated Press.


Monsanto had sued the nation’s leading agricultural state, saying California officials illegally based their decision for carrying the warnings on an international health organization based in France.


Monsanto attorney Trenton Norris argued in court that the labels would have immediate financial consequences for the company. He said many consumers would see the labels and stop buying Roundup.


“It will absolutely be used in ways that will harm Monsanto,” he said.


After the hearing, the firm said in a statement that it will challenge the tentative ruling.


Critics take issue with Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, which has no color or smell. Monsanto introduced it in 1974 as an effective way of killing weeds while leaving crops and plants intact.


It’s sold in more than 160 countries, and farmers in California use it on 250 types of crops.


The chemical is not restricted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which says it has “low toxicity,” but recommends people avoid entering a field for 12 hours after it has been applied.


The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a Lyon, France-based branch of the U.N. World Health Organization, classified the chemical as a “probable human carcinogen.”


Shortly afterward, the most populated U.S. state took its first step in 2015 to require the warning labels.


St. Louis-based Monsanto contends that California is delegating its authority to an unelected foreign body with no accountability to U.S. or state officials in violation of the California Constitution.


Attorneys for California consider the International Agency for Research on Cancer the “gold standard” for identifying carcinogens, and they rely on its findings along with several states, the federal government and other countries, court papers say.


Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kristi Kapetan still must issue a formal decision, which she said would come soon.


California regulators are waiting for the formal ruling before moving forward with the warnings, said Sam Delson, a spokesman for the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.


Once a chemical is added to a list of probable carcinogens, the manufacturer has a year before it must attach the label, he said.







Nic’s Organic Fast Food, the nation’s first QAI-certified organic drive-thru chain, has announced the opening of its first store at 2101 Plum Grove Rd. in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, in early 2017. Founded by Nicolette and Benjamin Brittsan.


Nic’s Organic Fast Food will offer well-known fast food favorites, all certified organic and reasonably priced, from breakfast to organic burgers, organic fries to organic ice cream cones. Everything at Nic’s is grown or raised without agricultural chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, GMO’s, preservatives, artificial flavors, or colors. Meats are humanely raised and sustainably sourced.


There is an organic drive-in in California. Amy’s Drive-In in Sonoma County features organic food, but it’s not a chain—at least not yet.






In what’s shaping up to be the most Monsanto-friendly Congress in history—including a president keen to sign off on the pending Monsanto-Bayer merger—chemical companies are redoubling their efforts to keep consumers in the dark, the Organic Consumers Association reports.


According to US Right to Know (USRTK), the American Chemistry Council (Monsanto is a member) just this month formed a new group called Campaign for Accuracy in Public Health Research (CAPHR).


Just as the “Safe and Affordable Food Labeling Act” had nothing to do with safe and affordable food labeling (and everything to do with keeping consumers in the dark) this newcomer to the “deflect and deceive” industry propaganda movement is hell-bent on keeping accurate scientific research away from the public.


In fact, the group’s primary motive is to discredit the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a unit of the World Health Organization made up of independent scientists. In March, 2015, an IARC panel of 17 scientists unanimously concluded that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. Ever since, as US Right to Know’s Carey Gillam reports, Monsanto and friends have been harassing IARC through a series of “demands, threats and legal maneuvers,” including lobbying the U.S. House of Representatives to cut funding for IARC.


Gillam reports that the new campaign takes the assault further. On the group’s new twitter account, set up on January 25, CAPHR posted a string of insults against IARC scientists, accusing the experts from prestigious institutions around the world of “making sensational claims,” drawing conclusions “that can’t be trusted,” and using “questionable methodologies.”






On January 21, my wife Susanna and I drove to San Francisco to take part in the Women’s March. It was men and women, young and old, black and white and every shade in between, gay and straight—all the tapestry of America. It felt great to be there, because the Women’s March combined denunciation of the new President’s misogyny along with many other social causes, including the right to clean and wholesome food grown in a sustainable way. You can’t disentangle the organic movement from the movement for social justice.


And then I read the following article, written by Sharon Weeks, a retired school teacher in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. She has a message and a history lesson for the young women in the movement for social justice who may not have yet learned how and where the Women’s March came from. I think everyone in that tapestry of America I encountered can use this refresher. Here’s Ms. Weeks’ article in its entirety:


It came to my attention recently, after the March on Washington, that many young women are completely satisfied with their lives right now. I will refer to this as their “status quo.” But first a crash course in women’s history and a mention of many past marches and the influence they have had. I beg them, and you, to read on.


One thing I want to point out, as I am going to discuss women’s rights from more than a hundred years ago to 2017, is what I think these young women are missing. Women’s history has been basically excluded from the classroom text books in public schools. Many people are not aware that a select group of white men, a board of education in Texas, has been charged with the job of editing all of the history textbooks for decades. Their editing is final. (See Bill Moyers, “Messing with Textbooks,” June 2012.)







That is the reason you probably didn’t know that in the 1870s women could not own property, could not sign contracts, could not vote, file law suits, nor have their own money. Under their father’s roof, he had control and that control was passed to her husband upon marriage. A woman running away from violent domestic abuse was hunted down by the law and returned to her husband as she was his property.


From the 1840s to 1920 women fought for the vote. The struggle to gain the right to vote began nearly 200 years ago. Attempts to vote in 1870 were turned away. The Supreme Court ruled against them in 1875. In 1916 Alice Paul formed the National Women’s Party. They marched. Over 200 supporters were arrested while picketing the White House. They were beaten with clubs and thrown in prison. Some went on hunger strikes and endured forced feedings. Forty prison guards wielding clubs went on a rampage against 33 women known as the “Night of Terror” on Nov. 15, 1917. (See HBO movie, “Iron Jawed Angels.”)


In the 1960s women fought for birth control. It was illegal in many parts of the country then, you see. Margaret Sanger, a pioneer in the struggle for a woman’s right to birth control in an era “when it was illegal to discuss the topic,” was arrested many times for her publications and her New York City clinic.


Civil rights marches (1960s)


Again people were beaten, drowned and hanged. Because of the media, there was more attention and the marches for these rights were better known. After the Civil War, the 14th and 15th amendments adopted in 1868 and 1878 granted citizenship and suffrage to blacks, but not to women. A suffrage amendment to the federal Constitution was presented to Congress and repeatedly failed to pass.


1972: Title IX is a landmark federal civil right that prohibits sex discrimination in education. Title IX is not just about sports and it protects all students; the federal government threatened to stop aid to all public schools that did not correct this.


1973: Roe vs. Wade made abortion legal and safe. Women stopped dying from abortions. The government is planning to stop funding for Planned Parenthood and tens of thousands of women will not only lose coverage for basic health care, but they will also no longer have access to birth control. That pretty much means there will be more unwanted pregnancies and if Roe vs. Wade is overturned, which seems likely with the appointment of a new Supreme Court judge by this administration, there will be more women dying from abortions again.


Gay rights marches


Again people were beaten and killed, even when not participating in marches, but while just trying to live their lives like people of color before them. Eventually gains were made and gays were given the right to marry and the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples. LGBT people and their rights are now being subject to reversal.


Now it is 2017 and people are marching. Women, their husbands, children and fathers descended upon Washington, D.C., to march for women’s rights. There were people marching in 57 other countries around the world. They marched for women who still make less money than men for the same work; for Muslim women and their families who fear deportation and being sent back to the terribly dangerous places they were trying so hard to flee; for Mexican families who live in fear of being deported and being torn from their children; and to raise awareness for women in other countries who have few, if any, rights.


Every march, every right that was fought for, that women died for, was for your “status quo,” for the life you have now, that you take for granted. Please know that every one of these rights that let you live the life you have can be erased with the swipe of a pen. Don’t let all those who died, the fighting and suffering be for naught.


Guess what? The Equal Rights Amendment did not pass. It won the two-thirds vote from the House of Representatives in October, 1971. In March of 1972, it was approved by the Senate and sent to the states for ratification. It failed to achieve ratification by 38, or three-quarters, of the states. It was not brought to a vote again.


Because of that rejection, sexual equality, with the exception of when it pertains to the right to vote, is not protected by the Constitution. However, in the late 20th century the federal government and all states have passed legislation protecting women’s rights. These protections are not amendments to the Constitution. They, too, can be wiped away with the swipe of a pen.


Please don’t be complacent and too comfortable with your life. Be aware of what has happened over the years, decades and literally centuries to get you here. Women fought and died. People march to make other people aware; pay attention, please, lest you lose it all. Lest we all lose it all.