Three organic industry veterans have united to create OrganicEye, the new investigative branch of Beyond Pesticides, with the goal of bringing independent oversight to the USDA organic certification. The watchdog is led by former USDA National Organic Standards Board member and Beyond Pesticides Executive Director Jay Feldman; Terry Shistar, PhD, one of the nation’s top experts in analyzing materials proposed for use in organic production; and Cornucopia Institute co-founder Mark Kastel, who will direct the new project.
“You can’t go out and find someone who has this experience," says Kastel. "At least not easily. And so I’m just really honored to be able to be joined by two other really seasoned veterans in this work.”
The new watchdog agency’s mission will be to defend the “time-honored philosophy and legal definition of organic farming and food production,” according to a recent press release. And in a time when many organic “farms” are far more similar to factories, according to Kastel, the new organization is essential.
“Big Food has bought out most of the prominent organic brands,” he explains. “What they would like is the $50 billion dollars that the organic industry generates... with the absolute minimum investment on their part.”
He details an "inherent conflict of interest," whereby certifiers are paid by their clients.
“The bigger the livestock factory, the bigger the paycheck," he says, detailing the inhumane and unecological presence of concentrated animal feeding operations, better known as CAFOs, in the distribution lines of many big-name meat, egg, and dairy brands.
“I like to say, we’re not private eyes, we’re public eyes,” says Kastel. “And our focus will be on exposing this corrupt relationship between the regulators and the regulated.”
To this end, the organization has established a new toll-free hotline, 1-844-EYE-TIPS (844-393-8477), to help facilitate tips on possible organic fraud from the public.
OrganicEye has already launched about a half a dozen investigations, according to Kastel. Its first official action was to send formal letters to the OIG (TK) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting an investigation of fraudulent organic imports from Turkey.
“Turkey is a country with past documented, wholesale fraud in the organic arena, and the certifier was currently under investigation by USDA, and shortly thereafter lost its accreditation,” Kastel says in the organization's recent press release. “It’s unconscionable that, at a time when the credibility of the organic seal is in jeopardy, NOP would not choose to take decisive action in this matter.”
In highlighting the issues that pervade organics today, Kastel and his team hope to reunite the industry with what makes it different from almost every other consumer product sector.
“It’s values-based. It’s based on meaning," says Kastel. "It’s grown because of the story behind the food labels, not just the food itself."
"The industry was built on a loving collaboration between farmers who were producing food in a more environmentally sane manner – and, when animals were involved, in a much more humane process – and consumers who are willing to seek that out and pay a premium for food," he continues. In exposing those who are not remaining true to these values, the team hopes to revitalize the organic industry once and for all.
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