The Organic Consumers Association (OCA), in a series of action alerts over the past month, has criticized the gradual erosion of organic standards by vested corporate interests in the organic products industry.
OCA, a nationwide watchdog organization set up to safeguard organic standards 16 years ago, and its allies in the organic community are calling for a crackdown on organic businesses that violate organic standards, such as poultry and egg operations that keep chickens confined indoors, as well as changes in National Organic Program (NOP) policies governing the temporary use of allowed synthetic chemicals or non-organic ingredients on the NOP’s “National List.” (The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances identifies substances that may and may not be used in organic crop and livestock production. It also lists the substances that may be used in or on processed organic products).
Organic advocates are also calling for a ban on questionable practices such as allowing ingredients in organic products derived from “mutagenesis” (using chemicals or radiation to genetically mutate life forms), treating animals on organic farms with genetically engineered vaccines, the spraying of the antibiotic streptomycin on organic apples and pears, and the little-known loophole in organic standards allowing the injection of antibiotics into newborn chicks.
In order to understand these issues, let’s step back and look at the big picture. Why are organic food and production standards important anyway?
The short answer is that organic food and farming, once you look closely at the practices and hazards of so-called “conventional” food and farming, are literally matters of life or death.
Non-organic, chemical and GMO-intensive food (so-called “conventional” food) is the number one cause of deteriorating public health among adults and children, including obesity, diabetes, cancer, antibiotic resistant infections and heart disease.
By contrast, organic foods and products, especially raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy oils and grass-fed meat and animal products, are safer, healthier and more sustainable than the chemical-intensive, genetically engineered, highly processed (laced with sugar, salt and unhealthy fats) junk foods that make up the bulk of the U.S. diet.
Non-organic farming and factory farms are the largest sources of water pollution, soil erosion, wetlands destruction and greenhouse gas emissions. The stark reality is that either we move away from fossil fuel/CO2- intensive, methane-emitting, nitrous oxide-emitting chemical and GMO agriculture, or we face runaway global warming and climate catastrophe.
On the other hand, the exponentially increased photosynthesis on organic farms, ranches and rangelands are capable of naturally sequestering enough excess CO2 in the atmosphere to reverse global warming and restabilize the climate.
No wonder organic foods and products are the fastest-growing items in America's grocery carts, with more than $35 billion in annual sales, growing 15 percent per year, comprising approximately 5 percent of all grocery store purchases. Forty million U.S. households accounting for almost 100 million people are currently buying organic foods, clothing, body care products, supplements and pet food on a regular basis.
The majority of U.S consumers now say they prefer organic foods.
In addition to the $35 billion organic market, “natural” foods, nutritional supplements and other “natural” products account for $75 billion annually in sales, with the majority of consumers paying a premium price for these “natural” products in the belief (unfortunately in most cases not true) that products labeled as “natural” are “almost organic.”
In other words, consumers are now spending more than $100 billion dollars a year in the U.S.—over 15 percent of all grocery stores sales—for products they sincerely believe are healthier and better for the environment, animals, small farmers and the climate.
So let’s get more specific about organic standards and why you should care about them. Here are 10 reasons why millions of health and green-minded Americans are buying organic foods and products:
1. Organic foods are produced without the use of genetic engineering or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Consumers are understandably alarmed about untested and unlabeled genetically modified ingredients in foods commonly sold in supermarkets. Genetically engineered ingredients are now found in at least 75 percent of all non-organic U.S. processed foods, even in many products labeled or advertised as "natural" or “all natural.” And the overwhelming majority of non-organic meat, dairy and eggs are derived from animals reared on a steady diet of GM animal feed. Organic standards prohibit the use of GMOs in foods labeled as “organic.” To safeguard organic standards, OCA believes that genetically engineered animal vaccines, now temporarily allowed in organics, should be banned.
2. Organic farming prohibits the use of toxic pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones and climate-destabilizing chemical fertilizers. Consumers worry about pesticide and drug residues routinely found in non-organic produce, processed foods and animal products. Recent studies indicate that an alarming percentage of U.S. meat contains dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria. To safeguard organic standards, OCA believes that the loophole in organic poultry production, whereby one-day old chicks are injected with antibiotics, should be eliminated, along with the practice of spraying the antibiotic streptomycin on organic apples and pears.
3. Organic foods and farming are climate-friendly. People are increasingly concerned about climate-destabilizing greenhouse gas pollution, including CO2, methane and nitrous oxide. Between 35-50 percent of these gasses in North America come from our energy-intensive, chemical-intensive food and farming system. Organic farms and ranches, on the other hand, use far less fossil fuel, emit far less methane and nitrous oxide, and can safely sequester large amounts of CO2 in the soil (up to 7,000 pounds of CO2 per acre per year, every year.) Twenty-four billion pounds of chemical fertilizers applied on non-organic farms in the U.S. every year not only pollute our drinking water and create enormous dead zones in the oceans, but they also release enormous amounts of nitrous oxide, a super potent, climate-destabilizing greenhouse gas.
4. Organic food certification prohibits nuclear irradiation. Consumers are justifiably alarmed about irradiating food with nuclear waste or electron beams, which destroy vitamins and nutrients and produce cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde. OCA believes that “mutagenesis,” a process that involves irradiating seeds and microorganisms in order to induce mutation, should be banned from organics.
5. Consumers worry about rampant e-coli, salmonella, campylobacter, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and fecal contamination in animal products coming out of the nation's inhumane and filthy slaughterhouses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention admit that millions of Americans suffer from food poisoning every year. Very few cases of food poisoning have ever been linked to organic farms or food processors.
6. Consumers are concerned about billions of pounds of toxic municipal sewage sludge dumped as "fertilizer" on 140,000 of America's chemical farms. Scientific evidence has confirmed that municipal sewage sludge contains hundreds of dangerous pathogens, toxic heavy metals, flame-retardants, endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, pharmaceutical drugs and other hazardous chemicals coming from residential drains, stormwater runoff, hospitals and industrial plants. Organic standards categorically prohibit the use of sewage sludge on organic farms and ranches.
7. Consumers worry about the routine practice of grinding up slaughterhouse waste and feeding this offal (the parts of a butchered animal that are considered inedible by human beings) and blood back to other animals, a practice that has given rise to a form of human mad-cow disease called CJD, often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's disease. Animals on organic farms cannot be fed slaughterhouse waste, manure or blood—offal that is routinely fed to animals on America's factory farms. OCA believes that the current loophole allowing organic sausage casings to be made from the intestines of non-organic animals (most of whom no doubt were fed slaughterhouse waste) should be eliminated.
8. Consumers care about the humane treatment of animals. Organic farming, by law, prohibits intensive confinement of farm animals. In addition to the cruelty and unhealthy confinement of animals on factory farms, scientists warn that these CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) produce enormous volumes of manure and urine, which not only pollute surface and groundwater, but also emit large quantities of methane, a powerful climate-destabilizing greenhouse gas. OCA believes that the National Organic Program should crack down on large organic poultry and dairy operations where the animals are intensely confined, with little or no opportunity to go outdoors. To date, the USDA has ignored the pleas of organic stakeholders, consumers and ethical family farmers, to crack down on the scofflaws milking as many as 10,000 cows on “organic” farms and confining as many as 100,000 “organic” birds to a henhouse.
9. Consumers are concerned about purchasing foods with high nutritional value and as few as possible synthetic or non-organic ingredients. Organic foods are nutritionally dense compared to foods produced with toxic chemicals, chemical fertilizers and GMO seeds. Studies show that organic foods contain more vitamins, cancer-fighting antioxidants, and important trace minerals. Traditionally the “National List” of non-organic ingredients allowed in certified organic products was relatively short, with a “sunset clause” designed to phase these non-organic ingredients out as quickly as possible.
In September 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, under pressure from corporate interests represented by the Organic Trade Association, without any input from the public, changed the way the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) decides which non-organic materials are allowed in certified organic. Prior to the change, industry needed 10 of 15 votes in order keep a non-organic material on the National List of allowed substances in organic, or the material would automatically be dropped, or “sunsetted,” after a five-year period. Under the new rules, non-organic materials automatically remain on the list, unless 10 board members vote to remove them from the list. The rule change now all but guarantees that when the NOSB (now comprised of a majority of industry representatives as opposed to organic consumer or organic farmer representatives) meets every six months, the list of non-organic and synthetic materials allowed in organic will get longer and longer.
10. Consumers care about preserving America's family farms, they care about world hunger, and the plight of the world's two billion small farmers. Just about the only small farmers who stand a chance of making a decent living these days are organic farmers, who get a better price for their products. In addition, study after study has shown that small organic farms in the developing world produce twice as much food per acre as chemical and GMO farms, while using far less fossil fuel and sequestering large amounts of excess CO2 in the soil. Yields on organic farms in the industrialized world are comparable to the yields on chemical and GMO farms, with the important qualification that organic farms far out-produce chemical farms under extreme weather conditions of drought or torrential rains. Given accelerated climate change, extreme weather is fast becoming the norm.
For all these reasons, millions of American consumers are turning to organic foods and other organic items, including clothing and body care products. It’s part of an overall movement toward healthy living, preserving the environment and reversing global warming. But to move this Great Organic Transition forward we need to safeguard and strengthen organic stands, not weaken them.
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The Biden-Harris transition team identified COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change as its top priorities. Rivers are the through-line linking all of them. The fact is, healthy rivers can no longer be separated into the "nice-to-have" column of environmental progress. Rivers and streams provide more than 60 percent of our drinking water — and a clear path toward public health, a strong economy, a more just society and greater resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis.
Public Health<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyNDY3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDkxMTkwNn0.pyP14Bg1WvcUvF_xUGgYVu8PS7Lu49Huzc3PXGvATi4/img.jpg?width=980" id="8e577" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1efb3445f5c445e47d5937a72343c012" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="3000" data-height="2302" />
Wild and Scenic Merced River, California. Bob Wick / BLM<p>Let's begin with COVID-19. More than <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">16 million Americans</a> have contracted the coronavirus and, tragically,<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank"> more than</a> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">300,000 have died</a> due to the pandemic. While health officials encourage hand-washing to contain the pandemic, at least <a href="https://closethewatergap.org/" target="_blank">2 million Americans</a> are currently living without running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater treatment. Meanwhile, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank">aging water infrastructure is growing increasingly costly for utilities to maintain</a>. That cost is passed along to consumers. The upshot? <a href="https://research.msu.edu/affordable-water-in-us-reaching-a-crisis/" target="_blank">More than 13 million</a> U.S. households regularly face unaffordable water bills — and, thus, the threat of water shutoffs. Without basic access to clean water, families and entire communities are at a higher risk of <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2020/08/05/488705/bridging-water-access-gap-covid-19-relief/" target="_blank">contracting</a> and spreading COVID-19.</p><p>We have a moral duty to ensure that everyone has access to clean water to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Last spring, <a href="https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/coronavirus-stimulus-bill-explained-bailouts-unemployment-benefits.html" target="_blank">Congress appropriated more than $4 trillion</a> to jumpstart the economy and bring millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Additional federal assistance — desperately needed — will present a historic opportunity to improve our crumbling infrastructure, which has been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grossly underfunded for decades</a>.</p><p>A report by my organization, American Rivers, suggests that <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Congress must invest at least $50 billion</a> "to address the urgent water infrastructure needs associated with COVID-19," including the rising cost of water. This initial boost would allow for the replacement and maintenance of sewers, stormwater infrastructure and water supply facilities.</p>
Economic Recovery<p>Investing in water infrastructure and healthy rivers also creates jobs. Consider, for example, that <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y9p6sgnk" target="_blank">every $1 million spent on water infrastructure in the United States generates more than 15 jobs</a> throughout the economy, according to a report by the Value of Water Campaign. Similarly, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yyvd2ksp" target="_blank">every "$1 million invested in forest and watershed restoration contracting will generate between 15.7 and 23.8 jobs,</a> depending on the work type," states a working paper released by the Ecosystem Workforce Program, University of Oregon. Healthy rivers also spur tourism and recreation, which many communities rely on for their livelihoods. According to the findings by the Outdoor Industry Association, which have been shared in our report, "Americans participating in watersports and fishing spend over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">$174 billion</a> on gear and trip related expenses. And, the outdoor watersports and fishing economy supports over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">1.5 million jobs nationwide</a>."</p><p>After the 2008 financial crisis, Congress invested in infrastructure to put Americans back to work. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/25941-clean-water-green-infrastructure-get-major-boost" target="_blank">of 2009 (ARRA) allocated $6 billion</a> for clean water and drinking water infrastructure to decrease unemployment and boost the economy. More specifically, <a href="https://www.conservationnw.org/news-updates/us-reps-push-for-millions-of-restoration-and-resilience-jobs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an analysis of ARRA</a> "showed conservation investments generated 15 to 33 jobs per million dollars," and more than doubled the rate of return, according to a letter written in May 2020 by 79 members of Congress, seeking greater funding for restoration and resilience jobs.</p><p>Today, when considering how to create work for the <a href="https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10.7 million</a> people who are currently unemployed, Congress should review previous stimulus investments and build on their successes by embracing major investments in water infrastructure and watershed restoration.</p>
Racial Justice<p>American Rivers also recommends that Congress dedicate <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$500 billion for rivers and clean water over the next 10 years</a> — not just for the benefit of our environment and economy, but also to begin to address the United States' history of deeply entrenched racial injustice.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.epa.gov/npdes/sanitary-sewer-overflows-ssos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">23,000-75,000 sewer overflows</a> that occur each year release up to <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/2020/05/fighting-for-rivers-means-fighting-for-justice/#:~:text=There%20are%20also%2023%2C000%20to%2075%2C000%20sanitary%20sewer,to%20do%20with%20the%20mission%20of%20American%20Rivers." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10 billion gallons of toxic sewage</a> <em>every day</em> into rivers and streams. This disproportionately impacts communities of color, because, for generations, Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color have been <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flooding-disproportionately-harms-black-neighborhoods/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">relegated</a> to live in flood-prone areas and in neighborhoods that have been intentionally burdened with a lack of development that degrades people's health and quality of life. In some communities of color, incessant flooding due to stormwater surges or <a href="https://www.ajc.com/opinion/opinion-partnering-to-better-manage-our-water/7WQ6SEAQP5E4LGQCEYY5DO334Y/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">combined sewer overflows</a> has gone unmitigated for decades.</p><p>We have historically treated people as separate from rivers and water. We can't do that anymore. Every voice — particularly those of people most directly impacted — must have a loudspeaker and be included in decision-making at the highest levels.</p><p>Accordingly, the new administration must diligently invest in projects at the community level that will improve lives in our country's most marginalized communities. We also must go further to ensure that local leaders have a seat at the decision-making table. To this end, the Biden-Harris administration should restore <a href="https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401#:~:text=Section%20401%20Certification%20The%20Clean%20Water%20Act%20%28CWA%29,the%20United%20States.%20Learn%20more%20about%20401%20certification." target="_blank">Section 401 of the Clean Water Act</a>, which was undermined by the <a href="https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/tribes-and-environmental-groups-sue-trump-administration-to-preserve-clean-water-protections#:~:text=Under%20Section%20401%20of%20the%20Clean%20Water%20Act%2C,seeks%20to%20undermine%20that%20authority%20in%20several%20ways%3A" target="_blank">Trump administration's 2020 regulatory changes</a>. This provision gives states and tribes the authority to decide whether major development projects, such as hydropower and oil and gas projects, move forward.</p>
Climate Resilience<p>Of course, the menacing shadow looming over it all? Climate change. <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">More than 100 climate-related catastrophes</a> have pummeled the Earth since the pandemic was declared last spring, including the blitzkrieg of megafires, superstorms and heat waves witnessed during the summer of 2020, directly impacting the lives of more than <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">50 million people globally</a>.</p><p>Water and climate scientist Brad Udall often says, "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQhpj5G0dME" target="_blank">Climate change is water change</a>." In other words, the most obvious and dire impacts of climate change are evidenced in profound changes to our rivers and water resources. You've likely seen it where you live: Floods are more damaging and frequent. Droughts are deeper and longer. Uncertainty is destabilizing industry and lives.</p><p>By galvanizing action for healthy rivers and managing our water resources more effectively, we can insure future generations against the consequences of climate change. First, we must safeguard rivers that are still healthy and free-flowing. Second, we must protect land and property against the ravages of flooding. And finally, we must promote policies and practical solutions that take the science of climate disruption into account when planning for increased flooding, water shortage and habitat disruption.</p><p>Imagine all that rivers do for us. Most of our towns and cities have a river running through them or flowing nearby. Rivers provide clean drinking water, irrigate crops that provide our food, power our homes and businesses, provide wildlife habitat, and are the lifeblood of the places where we enjoy and explore nature, and where we play and nourish our spirits. Healthy watersheds help <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059952" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mitigate</a> climate change, absorbing and reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Healthy rivers and floodplains help communities adapt and build resilience in the face of climate change by improving flood protection and providing water supply and quality benefits. Rivers are the cornerstones of healthy, strong communities.</p><p>The more than <a href="https://archive.epa.gov/water/archive/web/html/index-17.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">3 million miles</a> of rivers and streams running across our country are a source of great strength and opportunity. When we invest in healthy rivers and clean water, we can improve our lives. When we invest in rivers, we create jobs and strengthen our economy. When we invest in rivers, we invest in our shared future.</p>
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