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Leading Wisconsin Farm Group Rejects Industry-Led "Organic Check-off"

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Goodman continued, "We have our work cut out for us. OTA lobbyists do not represent our interests and we need to prove that to USDA Secretary Vilsack."



Just before the Farmers Union gathering in Wisconsin, at the Minnesota Organic Conference a similar panel discussion was held. This time Organic Valley was represented by their chief legal counsel, and OTA President, Melissa Hughes. The farmer's perspective was presented by Family Farm Defenders board member, Jim Goodman, a Wonewoc, Wisconsin certified organic dairy producer and, this time, added to the panel was a "neutral" voice, Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group (a nonprofit that receives funds from Organic Valley, Groupe Danone/Stonyfield, WhiteWave/Earthbound Farms and other corporate members of the OTA).

Based on their lack of success in convincing farmers, and grassroots groups like The Cornucopia Institute, the Wisconsin Farmers Union and Family Farm Defenders, of the merits of their proposal the OTA created their own "Farmers Advisory Council" which has been described as a Trojan Horse by true farm advocates. The Council is a panel largely populated by the owners of corporate agribusiness concerns and farmers affiliated with Organic Valley, WhiteWave, Earthbound Farms and other organizations that actually buy from farmers. The Cornucopia Institute has described the panel as "a phony-baloney attempt, rife with conflicts of interest, to appear to represent the interests of working farmers."

Experts with other prominent nonprofits representing organic farmers, including the Organic Farmer's Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM) and the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA), have eloquently questioned how the OTA's proposed promotional work will be able to overcome the USDA's restriction that the check-off program cannot compare organics to ("denigrate") other conventional commodity groups. That is, the promotional program cannot claim organic food is superior to conventional foods produced by the industrial-chemical agricultural model.

Ed Maltby, NODPA's executive director, has called OTA's outreach a "one-sided propaganda campaign." He notes that it fails to ask "the basic question of whether we want or need a federal government program to promote the organic label and assist with funding of organic research." Maltby added: "There are many half-truths and sound bites now being used by OTA to describe the benefits of a USDA organic check-off program that are misleading at best."

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I work for The Cornucopia Institute. We are a non-profit that works to protect sustainable/organic food and small-scale farming. We often write press releases surrounding what is happening in the industry and what our research discovers. You can (more...)
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