(NaturalNews) With the U.S. organic market now topping $81 billion in sales annually, the big food conglomerates are seeking a larger piece of the monetary pie with a new proposed "check-off" program that would require all organic producers to pay fees for the collective promotion of organic food. But the farm policy analyst group Cornucopia Institute (CI) suggests that this corporate attempt at controlling organic agriculture is a malevolent scheme to siphon money away from organic family farmers while providing little or no benefit.
The brainchild of the Organic Trade Association (OTA), the check-off program, which is being branded under the name "United for More Organic," purports to help increase organic sales and maximize the number of U.S. acres growing organic food. The return on investment from the program, claims the OTA, will more than make up for the price organic farmers will be required to pay in order to fund it, resulting in healthy, long-term sector growth that will sustain the organics for years to come.
This all sounds nice, but according to CI, the program is primarily geared towards the big players like General Mills, WhiteWave, and Smuckers, all OTA members that also benefit from conventional food sales. Much like the "Got Milk?" campaign for milk and "Pork. The Other White Meat." campaign for pork, the organic check-off program would promote organic food products at the national level, presumably resulting in increased sales for these and other industry players that have jumped on the organic bandwagon, but that do not necessarily represent the interests of true family-scale organic farmers.
For years, organic farmers have been required to pay into general check-off programs at the federal level that promote dairy, beef, pork, and other commodities. These programs in no way emphasize the importance of organics, and yet organic producers have had to pay into them. But under the new Farm Bill guidelines, organic producers can finally opt out of this program and cut their costs, ultimately reducing costs for organic consumers -- that is if groups like the OTA don't swoop in and create their own mandatory program to replace it.
"What many industry observers found objectionable and disingenuous in the OTA's lobby effort on Capitol Hill was the fact that, after holding 'Townhall' listening sessions around the country, and receiving virtually no support from farmers attending, they reported to congressional staffers that there was unanimity of support in the organic community for their scheme," says Mark. A. Kastel, senior farm policy analyst at CI, about the OTA's approach.
Organic farmers urged to resist propaganda: organic check-off program will not benefit them
According to the organic interest group, the OTA has actually been "robo-calling" organic farmers over the past several months, urging them to support an organic check-off program. In the pre-recorded messages, organic farmer are being solicited with propaganda about how the program will benefit them, when in reality it stands to benefit only corporate interests.
"There are many half-truths and sound bites now being used by OTA to described the benefits of a USDA Organic Check-off program that are misleading at best," says Ed Maltby, executive director of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA), a group that opposes the check-off scheme. The robo-calling outreach endeavor, he says, is a "one sided propaganda campaign" that fails to ask "the basic question of whether we want or need a federal government program to promote the organic label and assist with funding organic research."
"You can ... be assured that the USDA will not allow any promotional or information program, project, or activity that can be viewed as disparaging to conventionally produced products," adds Richard Mathews, a former USDA employee who spent more than 11 years at the agency promoting similar check-off programs for other food commodities, about the proposed organic check-off scheme.
"So those who think they are going to be able to sing the praises of organic as compared to conventional had better begin rethinking their position."