For Immediate Release
Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042
USDA Report: Corporate Imports from China, Elsewhere Throw Organic Farmers under the Bus
Domestic Producers Hurt by Growing Corporate Imports
CORNUCOPIA, Wisconsin - On the heels of the
release of The Cornucopia Institute’s study exposing the import-dependent
organic soy industry, a report by the United States Department of Agriculture substantiates
Cornucopia’s findings. Using different research methods, the two reports
reach similar conclusions: organic manufacturers and farmers are facing escalating
competition from large conventional food manufacturers entering the organic
market, and companies are increasingly looking to China and other countries to import
organic foods and ingredients.
of the major findings of the USDA report—conventional food corporations
taking over successful independent organic companies, and increasing dependence
on imports—are not unrelated,” suggests Charlotte Vallaeys, Farm
and Food Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute and primary author of the
organization's study Behind the
Bean: The Heroes and Charlatans of the Organic Soy Industry.
The USDA report, Emerging
Issues in the U.S. Organic Industry, was released
earlier this month.
agribusiness corporations enter the organic market, like Dean Foods when it
bought the Silk soymilk brand from a pioneering independent company, they
sometimes look abroad for cheaper imports or abandon organics altogether,
rather than maintain their commitment to supporting domestic organic farmers,”
Vallaeys adds. “The handlers mentioned in the USDA report that now
complain of shortages of domestically grown organic crops are therefore by no
means innocent victims of forces beyond their control, but rather helped create
these shortages by opting for cheaper organic imports instead of supporting
domestic farmers with sustainable prices.”
to the USDA’s report U.S.
organic soybean production started declining several years ago despite steeply
increasing demand for organic feed grains and consumer products such as soymilk.
“As the number of organic soybean producers has increased worldwide, U.S.
producers have faced increased competition for the domestic market,” concludes
Catherine Greene, USDA economist and lead author of the USDA report.
contends that the purported shortage of organic soybeans in the United States is not a legitimate excuse for
companies to import cheap crops from China or abandon organic ingredient
sourcing altogether. “Our research reveals that there are many highly
committed organic companies that are offering products made with American-grown
soybeans,” says Vallaeys. Examples are Eden Foods, which continues its long-standing
relationships with domestic farmers who grow organic soybeans, and new market
players like Vermont Soy that are actively engaged in recruiting existing local
organic farmers to grow soybeans.
the opposite end of the spectrum are companies like Dean Foods, a leading
agribusiness involved mainly in dairy, which markets Silk soymilk. When Dean
Foods first acquired the Silk brand, American farmers were eager to ramp up
domestic production of organic soybeans for their soymilk. According to
Cornucopia's report, Dean Foods quickly dashed their hopes, telling multiple midwestern
farmers and farmer cooperatives that they had to match the rock-bottom prices of
Chinese organic soybeans—a price they simply could not meet. So Dean
Foods bought Chinese soybeans for years, building its commanding industry
market share, before substantially decreasing its support of organic
agriculture altogether. Today, few Silk products are certified organic and
some are even processed with toxic chemicals and labeled "natural."
comes first, the organic chicken or the organic egg?” asks Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at The
Cornucopia Institute. “Companies like Dean Foods complain that there aren’t
enough organic soybeans grown in the U.S., yet they took an active role
in creating this shortage by refusing to work with American farmers when they
had the chance.”
Kramer, a marketer for the Midwestern Organic Farmers Cooperative, based in
Michigan, laments: “Dean Foods had the opportunity to push organic and
sustainable agriculture to incredible heights of production by working with
North American farmers and traders to get more land in organic production, but
what they did was pit cheap foreign soybeans against the U.S. organic farmer,
taking away any attraction for conventional farmers to make the move into
USDA report concludes, “Despite the potential for organic agriculture to
improve the environmental performance of U.S. agriculture, the national
standard is having only a modest impact on environmental externalities caused
by conventional production methods because the organic adoption rate is so
low.” In other words, our country could be reducing pesticide
contamination of surface- and groundwater, soil erosion, loss of wildlife, and
other negative impacts on the environment, but greed appears to have stunted
the growth of domestic organic agriculture.
a by-product of its research, Cornucopia also creates scorecards that rate
organic dairy and soy foods brands based on their production practices and
ethical values. Consumers who buy organic, in part because they want their
purchases to benefit domestic farmers and the American environment, may not realize
that leading brands are importing from countries with dubious food safety and
organic integrity, or environmental issues, like China, Brazil, and India.
Cornucopia Institute’s goal is to help consumers differentiate between
the brands that are truly committed to organic values, from those that aren’t,”
says Kastel. “We encourage consumers to use the scorecards when voting in
the marketplace, and to support the companies that buy American-grown organic
The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit farm policy research group, is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Their Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate and governmental watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit. Their web page can be viewed at www.cornucopia.org.