USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack

A “conspiracy” between corporate agribusiness and the USDA is being dubbed “The Organic Watergate” by the nation’s leading organic farming watchdog, The Cornucopia Institute.

In a comprehensive report released by the organization, the Cornucopia Institute details numerous federal violations that have “created a climate of regulatory abuse and corporate exploitation,” including the use of questionable artificial additives and chemicals in some certified organic food and misappropriation of appointees to the National Organic Standards Board.

The Cornucopia Institute claims that the National Organic Standards Board—the independent advisory panel set up in 1990 along with the Organic Foods Production Act—is stacked with agribusiness executives that “all too often have “sold out” the interests of organic farmers and consumers.”  And mounting problems escalated in 2011 at the annual NOSB meeting where a partnership between Dutch-based multi-national conglomerate, Royal DSM N.V./Martek Biosciences, and the nation’s largest dairy processor, Dean Foods, led to the approval of the supposedly nutritious DHA/ARA (Docosahexaenoic acid/ arachidonic acid) oils. The additives—common in baby formula—contained genetically modified ingredients, soil fungus and petrochemical solvents.

In a statement released by The Cornucopia Institute, Charlotte Vallaeys, Director of Food and Farm Policy, said “All these elements of the Martek Biosciences products, along with outstanding safety and efficacy concerns, made them inappropriate and illegal in organics.”  This prompted the organization to look closer at the approval process of synthetic additives in some organic foods, like carageenan, a commonly used seaweed-derived ingredient that is also a well-documented inflammatory agent, repeatedly shown to cause harmful effects. It is recognized by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer and the National Research Council of the United States as a possible human carcinogen. The organization notes that even though there are fewer than 300 non-organic and synthetic compounds that have been approved for use in organics, most are harmless compared to the many thousands of chemicals used in conventional foods. “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,” Cornucopia Institute co-director, Mark Kastel said.  “And health conscious families deserve authentic organic food.”

The Cornucopia Institute also sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack demanding that one of the most recent appointees to the NOSB board—an executive for California berry producer, Driscolls—be removed due to her spot being reserved for an actual organic farmer, a situation that has occurred in the past and a practice that Kastel  calls a “gross scoffing at the law Congress passed as a safeguard against corporate domination.” Kastel added, “Either the USDA will immediately remediate this problem or we will defend the organic law in federal court.” The Cornucopia Institute is collecting signed proxies available on the organization’s website to help demand that the USDA operate the organic program legally.

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Image: USDAgov