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How corporate influence is subverting the Organic Standards Board in favor of industrial profit

Organic standards

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(NaturalNews) The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based research group that provides information regarding sustainable and organic agriculture to consumers and family farmers, conducted a study examining the backgrounds and voting scores of members on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

The NOSB, a 15-member advisory board created by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, was designed to make recommendations intended to preserve and protect the organic farming industry. Most importantly, the Board is required to maintain the National List of Approved and Prohibited Substances, a list that identifies which substances may or may not be used in organic crop or livestock production, as stated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The 15-member Board is supposed to consist of individuals representing farmers, environmentalists, public interest advocates, handlers, retailers, scientists and a USDA certifying agent.

However, Cornucopia reports that corporate representatives are filling seats intended for farmers and other independent organic industry stakeholders, compromising the organic food industry by allowing questionable ingredients into the organic food process.

Agribusiness employees fill seats designated for organic farmers

"We have two members of the current board, both sitting in seats that Congress had designated for someone who must 'own or operate an organic farming operation' but who were actually agribusiness employees when appointed to the five-year term on the NOSB," said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector and Senior Farm Policy Analyst at Cornucopia.

Of the four seats designated for farmers, agribusiness employees are holding two of them. Driscoll's, the California-based leading supplier of fresh berries, represents one of the seats. Driscoll's representative does not represent organic farmers, as the berry supplier specializes in pesticide-ridden berries, relying solely on contract farmers to sell organic berries. Their voting numbers prove it.

"Voting records for the current 15-member NOSB board members include three independent members with a history of voting over 90% of the time to block practices eroding organic integrity," reported Cornucopia.

The three members that have voted consistently to protect the organic market include Jennifer Taylor, who represents one of three consumer seats, Jay Feldman, an environmentalist who was recently appointed as executive director of Beyond Pesticides, and Colehour Bandera, a certified organic farmer who grows coffee, cacao, avocado and other organic food in Hawaii.

Agribusiness employees seldom vote to block harmful substances from entering the organic market

Agribusiness representatives had the following voting scores:

  • handler Harold Austin with Zirkle Fruit - 10 percent;
  • handler John Foster with Earthbound Farm - 16 percent;
  • "farmer" Carmela Beck with Driscoll's - 17 percent; and
  • "farmer" Wendy Fulwider with Organic Valley/Whole Foods - 43 percent.

The study discovered that about 25 percent of the Board members qualified as "true swing voters," affecting the outcome of serious decisions regarding what's allowed in the organic food industry.

"If the USDA had complied with the law, and appointed somebody like myself, a working organic farmer who met the qualifications to serve on the NOSB set up by Congress, instead of corporate imposters, many of the close votes over the last five years would have gone the other way," said Dominic Marchese, a certified organic beef producer from Ohio.

Marchese applied to get on the board three times over the last several years as a farmer, but others were chosen instead, sometimes agribusiness members. For example, USDA Secretary Vilsack chose Driscoll's Carmela Beck one of the years when Marchese applied.

By publishing their research, Cornucopia wants to let the Secretary of Agriculture know that they're watching, particularly for illegally appointing members that could undermine the integrity of the organic food industry.

"We also want to make sure we hold the corporations accountable that have employees on the board, corporations like Whole Foods, WhiteWave (Earthbound Farms/Horizon/Silk), General Mills (Cascadian Farms/Muir Glen), and Driscoll's," said Kastel.

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