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.
A New Food Label Is Coming Soon and It Goes 'Beyond Organic' https://t.co/UR3LZfVOCW— carey gillam (@carey gillam)1506981225.0
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.
When finalized, the certification will go "beyond organic" by establishing higher standards for soil health and land management, animal welfare and farmer and worker fairness.
Organic Consumer Association and our Regeneration International project, fully embrace this new venture to make organic more climate friendly, humane, just and environmentally positive. As we've said before, when it comes to food and farming—and as we veer toward climate catastrophe—"sustainable" doesn't cut it anymore. And certified USDA organic, though far better than GMO, chemical and energy-intensive agriculture, doesn't go quite far enough.
The standard will be administered by NSF International, an Ann Arbor, Michigan based product testing, inspection and certification organization, and will be open to multiple certification partners, according to Rodale.
When companies like Monsanto and Bayer claim to be "sustainable" and "climate-smart," those terms lose all meaning. When companies like Ben & Jerry's, which relies on an industrial dairy system fueled by GMO crops, claim to be "sustainable," we know that word has been co-opted—and corrupted.
Glyphosate in Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream + 'Monsanto Papers' = Very Interesting Times https://t.co/SbucvfmGLZ @NonGMOProject @GMOTruth— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1501881312.0
We've always supported USDA organic certification—even though the standards are sometimes flawed and sometimes exploited by a few bad actors—because we believe them to be the best way for consumers to avoid pesticides and synthetic ingredients. We'll continue to fight for stronger, better organic standards, and we'll hold fast against allowing corporations to weaken or exploit them.
But we also believe it's time to do better. It's time to acknowledge the role organic regenerative agriculture plays reversing global warming, by restoring the soil's capacity to draw down and sequester excess CO2 from the atmosphere. It's time to acknowledge that organic, regenerative agriculture increases crop resiliency by restoring soil health and biodiversity.
It's time to recognize that regeneration is the next stage of organic food and farming—and civilization.
This new Organic Regenerative Certification will help consumers identify those products that not only nourish their bodies, but also heal the planet.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
A diverse group of farmers, food companies, scientists, non-profit and advocacy groups from more than 100 countries have joined together to support a definition for "regenerative agriculture," as a way to rebuild soils, produce nutritious food and address the growing threat of climate change.
World's Topsoil Could Be Gone in 60 Years
"Regenerative agriculture keeps the natural cycles healthy—like water and carbon—so that land can keep growing food and keep carbon and the climate in balance," said Tim LaSalle, Ph.D., co-director of the Regenerative Agriculture Initiative at California State University Chico, who helped develop the definition.
Regenerative agriculture aims to rebuild the planet's topsoil, which has seen massive losses due to poor soil management, chemical intensive agriculture and erosion. A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that, with the current rate of soil degradation, all of the world's topsoil could be gone in 60 years—and with it farming.
"Forget climate change for a moment, do you believe in food? We need to regenerate the fertile field from which food is grown. Regenerative agriculture creates new topsoil, reversing the last century's trend of destroying it," said Tom Newmark, co-founder of The Carbon Underground, who is also an organizer of the initiative.
According to LaSalle, the word "regenerative" was chosen because "sustainable" has been rendered meaningless.
"It's became watered down and was adopted by Monsanto," he said.
Also, being "sustainable" is not enough to mitigate threats posed by climate change and soil loss.
"'Sustainability doesn't have meaning because we overshot the Earth's capacity at the rate we are pulling resources out and polluting," LaSalle said. "The climate is still going to heat, and we're still going to lose soil. What's sustainable?"
Creating a definition for "regenerative" also makes it more difficult for the term to be co-opted.
"I wanted to put a stake in the ground with the definition," LaSalle said.
Some of the companies that signed on to the definition include General Mills' subsidiaries Annie's Homegrown and Cascadian Farms, Ben & Jerry's, Dr. Bronner's, Organic India and Nutiva, among others. Non-profits include Organic Consumers Association, International Federation of Organic Farming Movements, Rodale Institute and others.
"Reducing emissions alone cannot solve climate change. We must draw down hundreds of billions of tons (of carbon) to succeed, and restoring our soil is the only known path to do this," said International Federation of Organic Farming Movements President Andre Leu.
Organic farming cooperative Organic Valley didn't sign on to the definition but supports the effort, said Jonathan Reinbold, Organic Valley's sustainability, research and grant manager.
"I think the definition is pretty solid, and the intention behind it is essential," he said. "We need to do everything we can to mitigate and reverse climate change and building healthy soil in doing that is a win-win."
Definition Focuses on Building Soil Health
Regenerative agriculture is defined as "a holistic land management practice that leverages the power of photosynthesis in plants to close the carbon cycle, and build soil health, crop resilience and nutrient density."
Regenerative practices focus primarily on building soils. These include no or minimum tilling, which can cause soil erosion; use of cover crops, diverse crop rotations, compost and manure to increase soil fertility; building biological ecosystem diversity and soil biology; and well-managed animal grazing practices to improve plant growth, soil fertility, insect and plant diversity and soil carbon sequestration.
"Regenerative agriculture mimics nature. It's how nature would farm," said Appachanda Thimmaiah, Ph.D., a regenerative agriculture expert at Maharishi University of Management and a signatory to the definition. "It's about how our actions can bring incremental improvements in soil health, water conservation, biodiversity, locally appropriate systems and nutrient density.
LaSalle said the definition is an evolving document. "We don't want it to be static. We can change it based upon what science reveals to us. We want it to be a living document."
Newmark emphasizes that regenerative agriculture is not a new technology. "This is the way a prairie or forest produces food. There are regenerative systems around the world that are building an inch of topsoil each year."
Organic and Regenerative
How does regenerative agriculture relate to organic? That is a tricky question. Many of the companies and organizations that signed on to the definition are in the organic industry. But, according to LaSalle, some organic industry members say that organic certification should be the basis for regenerative agriculture.
Newmark disagreed. "I don't want to restrict participation in the regenerative movement with a requirement for organic certification. For us to be successful in the threat of climate change, we have to enlist food producers from all over the world."
LaSalle agreed. "If organic was the baseline, only one percent of land is organic. We need to include all agriculture and grazing. Our time frame is terribly short."
While acknowledging that many organic farmers use regenerative practices, LaSalle also said that organic is not necessarily regenerative. Tillage or plowing is an acceptable practice in organic farming that can lead to soil erosion and release carbon dioxide from the soil into the air.
"You can grow organic and lose carbon (through tillage)," he said.
John Roulac, president of Nutiva, said regenerative could be a path to organic for conventional farmers. "If we can get 20 percent of farmers to stop using chemicals, plant cover crops and more rotations, then it will be easier to take them to organic regenerative a few years later."
Could there be a certification program for regenerative agriculture? LaSalle said it's possible. He envisions a tiered system with bronze, silver, gold and platinum levels, similar to LEED certification for buildings.
"If you're planting cover crops, you're at the bronze level. If you're following organic and regenerative practices, you're at the platinum level," he said.
An oft-cited example of an ideal regenerative farm is Brown's Ranch, a 5,000-acre diversified livestock, grain and vegetable farm in North Dakota. Owners Gabe Brown and his son, Paul, focus on soil health; they don't till the soil or use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or genetically modified crops. They grow as many as 19 different cover crops in a year. In 20 years, the Browns have added a foot of topsoil to their land.
"Gabe Brown is an extraordinary practitioner of regenerative agriculture," Newmark said.
Education programs in regenerative agriculture are starting to emerge. At California State University Chico, the Regenerative Agriculture Initiative will focus on research, education, creating demonstration sites and collaborating with other universities. A certificate program in Regenerative Organic Agriculture was launched in January at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. The 10-month course aims to provide students with knowledge and hands-on field experience in regenerative agriculture practices.
LaSalle emphasized that time is critical to regenerate agriculture for the planet and its people.
"We have 10 years, probably five-to-seven years before climate and greenhouse gasses reach the point of no return. Unless we drawdown (carbon), which agriculture can do at an amazing rate, we have no positive outlook of what climate or civilization will look like in the future. There is absolutely no reason to wait and every reason to move forward."