Not so organic - USDA accused of conspiracy with agribusiness insiders

AFP Photo / David Ebener
A watchdog group that handles issues dealing with the American agriculture industry is lashing out at the federal government for allegedly corrupting the advisory board that oversees organic food stuffs in the United States.

The Cornucopia Institute from the state of Wisconsin is calling out the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in their latest report by saying that the governmental panel that determines what is and isn’t considered “organic” is stacked with federal insiders with an alternative agenda.

According to the findings in The Organic Watergate paper released this week, the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has taken a turn for the worse in recent years, hiring staffers in bed with corporate entities that aren’t as concerned with protecting consumers as they are with making a buck.

"This is the proverbial fox watching the organic chicken coop,” Mark A. Kastel, co-director of The Cornucopia Institute, says in a press release.

The NOSB was established in order to oversee and monitor any and all synthetic ingredients used in the farming or production of so-called “organic” foods to "assure that it is not a threat to human health or the environment,” as well as recommend policy and modifications “to the regulations governing organic agriculture and food processing” in the US. Without proper oversight, it is feared by some that a slippery slope will effectively erode the USDA’s original standards and allow for Big Business and the government’s corporate colleagues to remove the rules that currently exist to guide consumers.

"Those of us in the industry, who are committed to the value of wholesome, nutritious foods that has been the hallmark of the organic industry, need the NOSB and the USDA to carefully and impartially review synthetic ingredients like carrageenan,” Eden Foods President Michael Potter tells the media.

Board members stacked onto the NOSB board by government officials aren’t as concerned, however, stresses the Institute. Despite carrageenan being recognized as a possible carcinogen by both the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer and the National Research Council of the United States, agribusiness big shots batting for the government have offered “independent” analyses to the board that argue in favor of the substance, which used to be commonplace in conventional foods until its dangers were discovered.

The Cornucopia Institute attests that the federal panel that makes those calls has "increasingly facilitated the use of questionable synthetic additives and even dangerous chemicals in organic foods."

"The organic community came together and actually asked the government, in order to maintain a level playing field and organic integrity, to regulate our industry," Kastel adds to the media. "How many other industries have ever asked the federal government for tough regulations and enforcement?"

“Although not a constitutional crisis on par with what happened during the Nixon administration, the USDA's blatant disregard for the requirements laid out in the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA), and the intent of Congress, is illegal and has inappropriately favored corporate agribusiness over the interests of ethical businesses, farmers and consumers,” reads the study. Elsewhere, its authors claim that the USDA “stacked the board with agribusiness representatives,” something that they say is not just illegal but ongoing — it has stretched over the past three administrations, the Institute claims.

Upon publishing The Organic Watergate, the Cornucopia Institute is asking that the USDA reexamine recent hires to the NOSB board and implement stricter guidelines in who it staffs.