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The Organic Watergate: Alarming Report Reveals USDA's Cozy Relationship with Corporate Agribusinesses in 'Organics'

- Common Dreams staff

Today, the Cornucopia Institute released a report titled The Organic Watergate, revealing widespread corruption in the USDA's organic food monitoring panel -- the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

The NOSB is supposed to monitor any synthetic ingredient used in organic farming or food production, to "assure that it is not a threat to human health or the environment"; however, as the report reveals, the USDA has been "stacking" the review panel with agribusiness executives who have "increasingly facilitated the use of questionable synthetic additives and even dangerous chemicals in organic foods."

The report charges the USDA with "violations of federal law, ignoring congressional intent, that has created a climate of regulatory abuse and corporate exploitation."

In one instance a large Dutch-based multinational conglomerate, Royal DSM N.V./Martek Biosciences, partnered with the nation's largest dairy processor, Dean Foods, to approve synthetic additives for use in infant formula, dairy and other products. The additives derive from genetically mutated vegetation and are processed with petrochemical solvents; yet, they were easily passed as 'organic' by the corporate interest stacked panel.

The report highlights countless instances such as this, stretching over the past three US administrations.

"I wish I was making this up, but one of the newest contractors to fulfill this review function is The Organic Center, the nonprofit offshoot of the Organic Trade Association, an agribusiness lobby group,” said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector of The Cornucopia Institute. "This is the proverbial fox watching the organic chicken coop."

"We implore consumers not to reject organics because a handful of corporations have acted recklessly and the USDA has failed to do their legally mandated job. Organic farmers, and their ethical processing partners, need your support now more than ever," Kastel added. "And health conscious families deserve authentic organic food."

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The Cornucopia Institute: The Organic Watergate: Advocates Condemn Corruption and USDA's Cozy Relationship with Corporate Agribusinesses in Organics

The nation's leading organic farming watchdog, The Cornucopia Institute, is challenging what it calls a "conspiracy" between corporate agribusiness interests and the USDA that has increasingly facilitated the use of questionable synthetic additives and even dangerous chemicals in organic foods. In its new white paper, The Organic Watergate, Cornucopia details violations of federal law, ignoring congressional intent, that has created a climate of regulatory abuse and corporate exploitation. [...]

The Cornucopia report charges the USDA with "stacking" the NOSB with agribusiness executives that all too often have "sold out" the interests of organic farmers and consumers.

"The organic community came together and actually asked the government, in order to maintain a level playing field and organic integrity, to regulate our industry," said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector of The Cornucopia Institute. "How many other industries have ever asked the federal government for tough regulations and enforcement?"

In order to placate concerns of federal involvement in the nascent organic industry, Congress specifically earmarked the majority of the 15 seats on the NOSB for farmers, consumers, scientists and environmentalists as a way to balance the power of commercial interests involved in organic food manufacturing, marketing and retail sales. [...]

"We have seen the USDA, in the past, appoint an executive from General Mills, as an example, to a consumer slot on the board. This gross scoffing at the law Congress passed as a safeguard against corporate domination needs to end right now," Kastel said. "We expected better from the Obama administration. Either the USDA will immediately remediate this problem or we will defend the organic law in federal court."

Cornucopia’s white paper documents the long-term abuse of congressional intent, by stacking the board with agribusiness operatives, an illegal practice that has stretched over the past three administrations.

Another request in Cornucopia's letter to Secretary Vilsack was to reform the selection of independent scientists reviewing synthetics in organics, stating that the industry needs an impartial board and the board needs truly impartial expert advisors. [...]

The Cornucopia Institute is collecting signed proxies, downloadable from their website’s home page, asking organic industry stakeholders, including farmers and consumers, to sign the proxy and join in the demand that the USDA operate the organic program legally.

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