Projects & Campaigns

Take Back Organic

There have been some massive changes to the official meaning of organic. The USDA that sets the certification standards, takes their guidance on ‘what is organic’ not from organic farmers, but from multinational corporations. These companies are seeking to profit off organic, not by changing the way they grow food to fit the standards, but by changing the standards to fit their industrial system of production.

Eaters rely upon organic to be a trusted seal for clean, nutritious food that regenerates and sustains the planet, and supports farmers and community. Read here to learn the latest and how you can reclaim Organic.

WHAT IS THE ISSUE?

The “Organic” label has been trusted to stand for clean, nutritious food grown sustainably, and is valuable to farmers and eaters. However, the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) is now certifying operations as organic that don’t qualify under the law that created the NOP.

In 2017, Next 7 launched the Protect Organic campaign, alongside dozens of foundational organic farmers, to stand up for organic standards, concerned about the very situation that we find ourselves in now. Since that time, the organic seal has been watered down so much that it can now include hydroponically-grown produce.

Hydroponic production means that the crop is grown without soil — a foundation of organic farming. Hydroponic growing practices sometimes include the use of Styrofoam and plastic, which can include flame-retardants and phthalates.

Also, due to lack of regulatory oversight, cows that are raised in CAFOS (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) for dairy production are allowed to be certified organic. Loss of the “pasture rule” in 2018 – proposed regulations widely supported by the organic community – were eliminated in favor of industrialized food companies.

Allowing hydroponics and CAFOs to exist under the same label as “true” organic food robs consumers of their right to know how their food is grown – and hurts organic farmers.

To add insult to injury, the NOP has also admitted that the hydro operations were not operating by the law, since the approval to allow their certification in 2017. Meaning, they have been allowed by some certifiers to spray synthetic herbicides, such as glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.

This is obviously not what most of us think of when we buy organic. Yet this is the new reality – and hurts us all.

For the consumer, this also means that they are now left without transparency, even in organic. Those farms and companies that rely upon the organic label to convey the value, ethics and practices behind their produce or product, now compete with those, which by most expectations and historically, would not even be recognized as organic.

While many of the pioneering organic farmers and foundational organic companies adhere to a standard or practice and grow their food in natural systems with soil and pasture, they are now competing against industrial “fake organic” – consumers are without means to identify the “real” organic in stores.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

While the NOP states that this is a “done deal” or a closed case for them, organic farmers and Next 7 couldn’t disagree more.

Organic means food that is grown in a way that is good for the eater, good for the farmer, good for the earth and good for future generations. You can’t change that definition. People buy organic not only to avoid toxins, such as pesticides, but also because they recognize that it can be a better way of growing food for planetary health.

A fundamental part of organic is that the food regenerates and builds the soil it is grown in (as opposed to industrial farming that depletes the soil of its nutrients without putting anything back).

Farmers who build organic matter in the soil sequester excess carbon. Industrialized agriculture wears out soil, and is estimated to be responsible for 40% added CO2 in the atmosphere alone. It stands to reason that agriculture is a solution for climate change that we must embrace. Unreasonably unfair competition to organic farmers in this way means that we lose these opportunities at a time we cannot afford to.

For eaters, the latest science is becoming clearer and clearer that biological farming is key to the health of the soil microbiome and ecosystem – and well as our own. It is vital for a thriving future for us and for our planet.

It is now time for us to expand regenerative organic practices and not make it harder for our organic farmers by allowing cheaply grown food by hydroponic practices to be labeled organic.

We buy food grown in fertile soil because it’s not only better for us, but for the planet. And when it’s not – not better for the planet, but worse – we’re getting ripped off and more importantly, losing a vital opportunity to sequester excess carbon that builds organic matter in the soil.

For the consumer, this means little to no transparency – even in organic. The picture of animals roaming green pastures and fresh fruits and vegetables picked from fields of rich soil is sadly a moving target for shoppers now. The farms and companies that rely upon the organic label to convey the value, ethics and practices behind their produce or product, are now without a reliable means to do so. The power of the “Organic” label is transparency and trust.

This is what we pay for when we buy organic food, not for industrial, mechanized systems. Growing food in warehouses and plastic pots is cheap, so one might ask what are we paying for when we buy “organic” hydroponic food?

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?

Thanks to the pioneering work of organic farmers to create a movement around organic food, the label is highly valued by consumers. Large corporations want to cash in on this, by growing food cheaply and calling it organic, so they can access the growing market of eaters who care about the methods by which their food is grown.

Put simply, they want to take industrial agriculture and call it organic.
Amazon, who has recently bought Whole Foods, now wants to scale their investment by mass-producing food they can call organic. Driscolls, MiracleGro, Scott’s — companies whose profit come from conventionally-grown produce, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and genetically-engineered grass seed — all these corporations are behind the push to call their cheap produce “organic”.

These corporations are trying to change the definition to fit how they grow food, rather than changing the way they grow food to meet the certification determined by organic farmers, the National Organic Standards Board and the National Organic Program.

WHAT IS AT STAKE?
Simply: your organic food and the future of organic farming is at risk.

The organic farmers that we rely upon daily to grow our food are the stewards of the soil, seeds, water and food – their agricultural practices regenerate the earth and also sequester carbon that mitigates the effects of climate change. The food they provide nourishes our families and us. They have pioneered a modern revolution we call organic farming.

Now, organic farmers are struggling to compete with mass produced industrial hydroponically grown foods. As these large corporations are allowed to call what they grow “organic”, it has made it impossible for you to know which practices you are supporting but what you are actually eating by the organic label alone.
People who eat food responsibly are less armed with the knowledge they rely on to protect their families.

WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?
We’re not going to sugarcoat it, the situation for organic farmers and consumers isn’t pretty. However, there are efforts underway for “add-on” labels to the organic seal as it’s been so watered down, due to corporate over-reach and poor USDA regulatory oversight.

For those who rely upon the organic seal for clean, nutritious, environmentally friendly food, what do we do in the meantime?

We have a plan.

First, sign our letter/petition to the Deputy Administrator of the National Organic Program. The NOP has remarked, “Consumers don’t care about this issue”. Let’s show them know that nothing could be further from the truth!

Second, we believe that consumers have the right to know. So we’re starting a buying guide for people who know how important it is to support organic farmers and to have their food grown in soil, not in Styrofoam, plastic and coco coir (the stuff doormats are made from!).

A guide will allow you to take the power of your dollar back and vote for the food system you want. We want to help you “spot the fake organic”.

Most important, buy your food from local farmers who farm organically and who regenerate the Earth, not deplete nor exploit, with their agricultural practices.

When enough of us take responsibility for how we eat and whom we purchase from, we can change our food system.

When we heal agriculture, we heal Earth.

Farmers

The organic farmers that have championed this effort to protect the integrity of organic farming and certification are listed here. This is by no means an exhaustive list as they are a solid community that grows food for consumers every single day. Please join us and stand behind them today!

Dave Chapman

Dave Chapman

Organic farmer for 37 years

Longwind Farm, Vermont

David "Davey" Miskell

David "Davey" Miskell

Organic farmer

Miskell’s Premium Organics, Vermont

Tom Beddard

Tom Beddard

Organic farmer

Lady Moon Farms, Chambersburg, PA

Anais Beddard

Anais Beddard

Lady Moon Farms, Chambersburg, PA

Eliot Coleman & Barbara Damrosch

Eliot Coleman & Barbara Damrosch

Organic farmers & authors

Four Season Farm, Maine

Fred Kirschenmann

Fred Kirschenmann

Kirschenmann Family Farms, North Dakota

Organic farmer for 41 years,
President of Stone Barns, and 
Distinguished Fellow at Leopold Center

Sign the Petition

The “Organic” label is valuable to farmers and eaters. The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) is now certifying operations as organic that don’t qualify under the law that created the NOP. Hydroponic production means that the crop is grown without soil — a foundation of organic farming. Hydroponic growing practices sometimes include the use of Styrofoam and plastic, which can include flame-retardants and phthalates. We are also learning that synthetic herbicides have been permitted immediately prior to certification. This is not ‘organic’.

How we define ‘organic’ affects farmers and consumers. It either gives us a nutritious food supply or more fake, industrial food. Tell the National Organic Program administrator, who oversees the certification standards, that if it’s not in the soil, it’s not organic.