The Silence of Our Friends – Guest Perspective from Real Organic Project

September 19th 2019

(Editor’s note: Provender Alliance subscribes to many emails, newsletters, and journals within the natural foods & products trade. This email from Dave Chapman, Executive Director of Real Organic Project, stands out for voicing heartfelt and thought-provoking questions.)

by Dave Chapman – Executive Director, Real Organic Project

One of our inspectors for Real Organic Project got a letter a few weeks ago. It brought up some important concerns that I want to address. Their letter is friendly and respectful. This is an expression of concern that deserves a response. Here is the letter we got:

“While I agree with the mission of the Real Organic Project, I feel like it is targeting allies of Organic in an adversarial way. If we’re going to go up against the real enemies of Organic (conventional agribusiness) we need to stand united as a community. Some of the ire that Dave Chapman and the Real Organic Project are throwing towards certifiers like CCOF about regulations that are controlled by the USDA is just misguided anger. I’m not going to support this kind of effort.

“Personally, I feel that hydroponics and CAFOs and genetic engineering have no place in Organic. But you guys have to know who your opponents are before making enemies of your allies. The Organic community is simply too small for us to be cannibalizing each other.”

This is a serious concern, and I share it.

How do we publicly challenge what is going on with the USDA without hurting the organic movement? Is it better to protest quietly and work behind the scenes to bring about change? That way eaters won’t get confused, and possibly give up on organic.

Let me say that we are not throwing ire at anyone. We are calling out significant players for their words and actions, and holding them accountable. In a conversation I had with a leading USDA official, I said that I would never attack them personally, but that I would hold them accountable for their public statements and actions. This person replied, “Just as it should be.”

Mark Twain said, “Loyalty to the country always. Loyalty to the government when it deserves it.”

 

Photo of Mark Twain

Challenging the government for its failures does not make one unpatriotic.

 

Quite the opposite. A democracy can only succeed if we are willing to do that.

As far as CCOF goes, I appreciate that they have been honest in the hydroponic debate. They have clearly stated that they support the certification of hydroponics. I disagree with them on that point, and I suspect that the majority of their members disagree with them as well. If that is true, there is a failure of their inner processes. If I am wrong, then we just have an honest split in the organic movement over what “organic” means.

Perhaps in another letter, I will discuss the ways in which I disagree with CCOF. I hope that the organic community will welcome this discussion. We are not served by secrecy.

Avoiding the circular firing squad.

There is always talk about avoiding the “circular firing squad” between allies. The letter said, “But you guys have to know who your opponents are before making enemies of your allies. The Organic community is simply too small for us to be cannibalizing each other.”

The idea is that by avoiding fighting among ourselves, we can then go up against the real enemies of Organic (conventional agribusiness). But things really are getting very confusing. I had a recent debate with Jo Mirenda from the Organic Trade Association.


We agreed that the National Organic Program is in deep trouble.

OTA has its ideas on how to move forward, and Real Organic Project has ours. OTA and I agree on many points. We agree that the CAFO poultry operations should be decertified. OTA lost several CAFO poultry members because they took that position. I salute them. We agree that glyphosate should not be allowed just prior to certifying a hydroponic berry operation. Well, that one is a no-brainer. OTA joined with the organic community to stop that from continuing (although their letter fell short on addressing pesticide use in greenhouses).

BUT we also DISAGREE on several critically important points.

OTA supports the Driscoll’s/Wholesum Harvest redefinition of hydroponic. This means they support the inclusion of the multimillion-dollar hydroganic industry in organic certification. OTA supported the Dark Act that eliminated Vermont’s GMO labeling law. OTA supports the continued certification of Dairy CAFOs such as Aurora.

To answer the comment that we must be united to fight agribusiness, I look at the membership of the Organic Trade Association. It includes so many multinational companies that represent conventional agribusiness!

OTA membership includes:
Perdue Farms (owner of Coleman Natural) (listed as Perdue AgriBusiness, annual sales of $6.7 billion)
Horizon (now owned by DanoneWave with sales of $24 billion)
Aurora
BASF (the largest chemical producer in the world with annual sales of $70 billion)
Cargill (the largest privately held corporation in America with annual sales of $115 billion)
DanoneWave or Danone North America (annual sales of $27 billion)
General Mills (annual of $15.7 billion, owner of Cascadian Farms, and Larabar)
Smuckers (owner of Santa Cruz Organic and R. W. Knudsen, $7.7 billion)
Hains Celestial ($600 million)
United Natural Foods Inc ($21 billion)
Campbell Soup Co
Honest Tea (owned by Coca Cola)
Applegate Farms (owned by Hormel, makers of Spam)
Kashi (owned by Kellogs, who donated generously to defeat California’s GMO labeling law)
Bear Naked (owned by Kashi)
Clif Bar
Stonyfield (owned by DanoneWave)
Bolthouse Farms (owned by Campbell)
Wholesum Harvest
Driscoll’s
CCOF
CCOF Certification Services
Oregon Tilth (current certifier of Aurora)
Seeds of Change (owned by M&M Mars)
Happy Family Organics (owned by Danone)
Wholesome Sweeteners (owned by the Arlon Group)
Celestial Seasonings (owned by Hain Celestial)
Westbrae Natural Foods (owned by Hains Celestial)
Walnut Acres (owned by Hains Celestial)
Westsoy Tofu (owned by Hains Celestial)
Arrowhead Mills (owned by Hains Celestial)
Earth’s Best (owned by Hains Celestial)
EarthBound Farm (owned by Taylor Farms, previously by DanoneWave)
Uncle Matt’s Organic (owned by Dean Foods)
Annie’s (owned by General Mills)
Dagoba Organic Chocolate (owned by Hershey’s)
Silk Soymilk (owned by DanoneWave)
Wolfgang Puck Organic Soups (owned by Campbell)
Sunrise Foods International (wholly owned by Tyryaki, the giant Turkish firm heavily implicated in many fraudulent grain imports)
QAI (Quality Assurance International, owned by NSF)
Cal-Organic (Owned by Grimmway Farms)

I am NOT attacking any of these companies. Some of them were organic pioneers. I eat food from some of them, and I appreciate that opportunity. But we must recognize that this is getting to be a pretty complicated conversation. The idea that we can easily separate ourselves into Organic Allies and Conventional Agribusiness is a fantasy. We have been successful at bringing millions of people to choose to buy organic. We have been successful at bringing some large companies along to change how they farm or to change the ingredients they source to include real organic.

BUT we are also seeing a seismic shift in the organic industry as large companies change the meaning of organic rather than having organic change these multinational companies.

This is an ongoing international debate, and we are all participants. We mustn’t shy away from speaking the truth, even if it confuses the civilians. If they aren’t confused, they aren’t paying attention. If WE aren’t confused, WE aren’t paying attention.

Finally, I insist that silence as a strategy for change has failed. Many have quietly fought to reform the NOP. They have failed, through no fault of their own. They are simply up against too much money. Quiet reasoning isn’t going to cut it. We must speak out.

To all of you, thank you for caring enough to join us in these discussions.

 

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Dave Chapman is the Executive Director of the Real Organic Project, a grassroots, farmer-led movement created to distinguish soil-grown and pasture-raised products under USDA organic. He is a founding member of the Vermont Organic Farmers. and runs Long Wind Farm in Vermont. He is proud to be a current member of the Policy Committee of the Organic Farmers Association. He served on the USDA Hydroponic Task Force. Dave serves in a Farmer position.

You can view Dave’s original letter here.

You can find out more and watch the debate by clicking here.