We Can No Longer Rely on USDA Organic Standards

The USDA’s organics program has been taken over by corporate interests; it’s time to fight back. Action Alert!


Consumers looking for clean, healthy food have for years turned to foods with the USDA’s organic seal. This seal is understood to mean that the food has been grown in accordance with organic principles—most importantly, that the farming practices promote healthy soil, which in turn produces healthy food.

Unfortunately, corporate influence has infected the USDA’s organic program to such an extent that it can be difficult to trust the organic seal.

Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have taken over organic eggs and dairy.

According to organic standards, livestock are supposed to have access to the outdoors, fresh air, and sunlight.

But these provisions have been interpreted in such a way as to allow CAFOs to confine animals to barns but add “porches”—a roof built over a concrete floor with screens as walls—and still label their livestock as “organic.”

This allows CAFOs to continue to raise millions of chickens or livestock on the cheap in cramped, squalid conditions but charge the organic premium.

The USDA estimates that half of all organic eggs come from CAFOs.

This is crucial for those seeking healthier options: organic eggs have been found to contain more micronutrients than conventional eggs: organic eggs have three times more omega-3 fatty acids, 40% more vitamin A, and twice as much vitamin E. Buying CAFO-raised organic eggs means consumers are not getting the benefits they think they are.

Organic milk suffers from a similar problem: half of organic milk sold in the US comes from CAFOs, according to the Cornucopia Institute.

Recent exposés have detailed how CAFOs try to cheat the system by not pasturing their cows as required by organic standards. Real organic milk from grass-fed cows contains more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an unsaturated fat that studies have shown helps protect the heart and help in weight loss.

Again, consumers are being duped into thinking they’re buying healthier milk when organic rules are manipulated and broken in these ways.

What can be done to save real organic agriculture? Unfortunately, the USDA doesn’t seem to care.

The government’s program has totally been co-opted by industry: it isn’t small, independent organic farmers who want CAFO milk and eggs and hydroponic produce to be organic.

We can also see the fingerprints of corporate influence through the ever-growing list of synthetic additives that have been allowed in organic production.

More than 250 non-organic substances are currently allowed, up from 77 in 2002.

For example, General Mills, Campbell’s Soup, Organic Valley, Earthbound Farms, and Whole Foods Market voted to include ammonium nonanoate, an herbicide, in organic production—a vote which they ultimately lost.

The growing consolidation of the industry also gives larger corporations an edge over the dwindling number of independent farmers who do not have powerful lobbyists at their disposal.

The USDA also has no mandate to promote organic agriculture, since it would be doing so at the expense of conventional agriculture which is represented by powerful special interests….


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