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Regeneration: Moving Beyond Gloom and Doom on USDA Organic Standards

Insights + Opinion
Coastal Roots Farm / Facebook

Last week the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) rejected the pleas of organic activists, farmers and many businesses to "keep the soil in organic" by voting to allow growers of hydroponic vegetables to label their produce "organic."

The NOSB's vote did little to shore up consumer faith in the USDA Organic label, especially after well-publicized news reports earlier this year that accused a few high-profile organic brands of giving "organic" a bad name by skirting the rules. And it had some industry pioneers so angry and disheartened, that according to the Washington Post they were even "threatening to leave the program they helped create."


The Organic Consumers Association supported the "Keep the Soil in Organic" campaign. We're disappointed in the NOSB's decision, another sign of Big Organic's (negative) influence over organic standards.

But rather than mourn the demise of organic standards, or fruitlessly complain about how the USDA Organic label is being undermined by corrupt corporations, we've joined the growing number of organic advocates, both in the U.S. and abroad, who understand that the future of organic—and labels—is regenerative.

The Rodale Institute and a broad coalition of farmers, ranchers, nonprofits, scientists and brands on Sept. 13, unveiled draft standards for a new third-party Regenerative Organic (RO) Certification.

When finalized, the RO Certification will go "beyond USDA Organic" by establishing higher standards for soil health, land management, animal welfare and farmer and worker fairness. The RO label will appear on certified regenerative products, next to the "USDA Organic" label, alerting consumers to the fact that the RO-labeled product not only meets USDA organic standards, but exceeds them.

The NOSB's vote to allow hydroponic foods to be labeled as "USDA Organic" has proven once again that big corporations and federal bureaucrats have greater control over organic standards than organic consumers and small organic farmers. "Big Organic" is now dictating the policies of the USDA's National Organic Program.

Over the past 15 years the organic community, led by consumer watchdog groups such as the Organic Consumers Association and the Cornucopia Institute, has been forced to mobilize over and over again to defend and maintain credible organic standards. We've exposed organic imposters like Aurora, White Wave/Horizon, Driscoll's, Herbruck, Cal-Maine and Walmart for undermining the organic label by selling factory farm dairy and poultry products that are "organic" in name only.

We've helped shine the light on importers of fake "organic" grains or ingredients from overseas.

We've taken the deceptive marketers of "natural" and "GMO-free" brands to court.

Despite the proliferation of what can only be described as "Grade B" organic products, especially in the organic sections of the large grocery store chains, millions of consumers who care about personal health, the environment, global warming, animal welfare and social and economic justice are still willing to pay a premium price for food, bodycare, clothing and other products they believe are genuinely organic. This is why organics (and 100 percent grass-fed beef and dairy) now represent more than 5 percent, or $55 billion dollars in grocery store sales in the U.S. It's also why new organic and "farm-to-table" restaurants are popping up all over the country.

A critical mass of health-minded consumers, especially parents of young children, now understand that cheap, non-organic, genetically engineered industrial food is hazardous. Chemical- and energy-intensive, GMO agriculture and factory farming destabilize the climate, destroy the environment, impoverish rural communities, exploit farm workers, inflict unnecessary cruelty on farm animals and contaminate the water.

To top it off, this degenerative agriculture model produces end products that are inevitably contaminated.

Routinely contained in nearly every bite or swallow of non-organic industrial food are genetically engineered ingredients, pesticides, antibiotics and other animal drug residues, pathogens, feces, hormone-disrupting chemicals, toxic sludge, slaughterhouse waste, chemical additives, preservatives, irradiation-derived radiolytic particles and a host of other hazardous allergens and toxins.

If the poisons invisibly laced into non-organic food, clothing and bodycare products haven't yet driven you personally to the organic aisle on a regular basis, scientists warn that a public health Doomsday Clock is ticking—and not just for you, but for everyone.

The biotech bullies, animal drug companies, Big Ag and the junk food industry are already the root cause of 50 million cases of food poisoning every year in the U.S., as well as an epidemic of allergies, reproductive disorders, food-related cancers, learning disabilities, heart attacks and obesity. Within a decade, these diet- and environment-related diseases, heavily subsidized under our Big Pharma/chemical/genetically-engineered/factory farm system, will likely bankrupt Medicare and the entire $3.5 trillion (and rising) U.S. healthcare system.

Likewise, millions of green-minded consumers understand that industrial agriculture and factory farms pose a terminal threat to the environment, biodiversity and climate stability. A highly conscious and passionate segment of the population is beginning to understand that converting to non-chemical, non-genetically engineered, energy-efficient, carbon-sequestering organic farming practices—what we call regenerative agriculture—and drastically reducing food miles by re-localizing the food chain, are essential preconditions for stabilizing our out-of-control climate and preparing our families and communities for future food, health, energy and resource crises.

Millions of us—consumers, farmers, activists—now realize that increasing levels of greenhouse gas pollution in the atmosphere (44-57 percent of which come from degenerative food, farming and land-use practices) threaten to push global warming to a tipping point that will melt the polar icecaps, burn down remaining forests, kill most fish and marine life and flood the coastal cities of the world, forcing a billion people to move to higher ground.

Despite its flaws, the USDA Organic system of food and fiber production is a step in the right direction. It's far better than chemical-and energy-intensive agriculture, and can serve in many cases as a baseline or starting point for genuine regenerative food and farming. USDA Organic, unlike most non-organic "local" or so-called "natural" food, has legal definitions, a handbook of rules, permitted and prohibited substances, acceptable practices, an inspection process and labels to guide consumers.

So let's stop obsessing over the fact that the Trump administration, the Republican party and in fact most farm state Democrats, are nothing more than cheerleaders for corporate agribusiness, Big Pharma, Monsanto, Dow and the junk food and beverage cartel.

Let's swing into action and build a mass movement that can put an end to "business as usual" and "politics as usual." Let's try to unite everyone who cares about health, food, climate, justice, peace and democracy into a new movement that can regenerate the Earth and revitalize the global grassroots.

We need to educate a critical mass of consumers, especially youth, to understand that organic food is qualitatively superior to chemical and GMO food. But let's also be honest in saying that a bunch of corporate lobbyists and USDA bureaucrats do not represent the future of organic food and farming. We need to educate Americans, and indeed people all over the world, that now is the time to move to the next stage of organic: regenerative organic.

Regenerative food, farming and land use practices, in conjunction with 100 percent renewable energy, are our best and indeed perhaps our last hope to reverse global warming, environmental destruction, deteriorating public health and what can only be described as corporate fascism.

So let's move today and everyday, beyond gloom and doom. Let's vote with our consumer dollars, our voices, our communications tools, and our community and political activism for a regenerative future. The hour is late, but there is still time to turn things around.

To review or comment on the new proposed Regenerative Organic standards, click here.

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