Impugns the reputation of trade-industry journalist and OrganicEye
OrganicEye’s Response to Blowback from the Attorney Who Runs CCOF:
Please be cautious whenever you see a powerful entity attacking the credibility of public interest groups or journalists who are critiquing their ethics and the legality of their business enterprise. OrganicEye fully stands behind the veracity of our research. The citations for our heavily annotated investigation on CCOF can be found here: https://organiceye.org/follow-the-money-conflicts-of-interest-abound-in-usda-organic-certification/. If you have questions, feel free to contact us directly.
Federal regulations governing organic certifiers seem to be quite clear:
7 USC 6515: Any certifying agent shall not:
… (2) accept payment, gifts, or favors of any kind from the business inspected other than prescribed fees;
Our research has documented hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions, sponsorships, and payments for advertising from major corporate agribusinesses certified by CCOF (over and above their large certification fees). Our investigation focused on the most recent five-year period that records were available.
Other documents indicate some of the same corporate donors may have, in aggregate, contributed millions to CCOF over the last two decades.
Many legacy certifiers read the law governing organics and refuse to certify hydroponic (soilless) produce production and livestock factories, whereas others, such as CCOF — likely the largest NGO operating in the domestic organic industry with revenues of approximately $27 million per annum — are more than happy to financially benefit from the industrialization of organic farming: Organic Agriculture is Soil-Based Position Statement (realorganicproject.org)
Our investigation examined the sources of CCOF’s revenue, as well as documented conflicts of interest, in trying to explain the juxtaposition between the established reputations of some certifiers and their policies that are economically injuring family-scale organic farmers.
Below please find our response to some of CCOF Chief Executive Officer Kelly Damewood’s complaints and criticisms regarding the recent article in the Organic Insider (published 2/7/2024).
DAMEWOOD: The publication refused to take a statement from CCOF and did not present any independent research to verify their allegations.
DAMEWOOD: CCOF is a mid-size nonprofit organization with over 50 years of organic certification expertise.
DAMEWOOD: CCOF Certification Services, LLC is audited annually by ANSI (ANAB), CAEQ, and Senasica. The USDA National Organic Program audits us every 2.5 years.
Ms. Damewood’s response also casts aspersions on Mr. Goldberg’s journalistic practices. After 20 years acting as a governmental and corporate watchdog in the organic industry, and partnering on numerous investigative stories with the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, National Public Radio, and other national media outlets, I can confidently say that Mr. Goldberg’s due diligence and fact checking is on par with those venerable journalistic institutions.
Ms. Damewood is welcome to her own opinions. However, she is not welcome to her own facts. Here is a short summary of the facts prepared by a member of our legal team:
- Unlike private companies and individuals, nonprofit tax records are made public by the IRS. The IRS records show that CCOF is receiving extra payments from business entities that CCOF certifies.
- The statute prohibits CCOF from receiving payments over and above certification fees from business entities certified by CCOF, for reasons relating to concerns about undue influence.
- CCOF has supported certain causes that benefit some of the business entities (certified by CCOF) that are contributing the extra payments to CCOF.
- OrganicEye discovers this and files complaints with the NOP and OIG pointing out the statutory violation.
- Organic Insider reports on what OrganicEye is doing and, as part of the report, reaches out to CCOF and gives CCOF an opportunity to respond.
- CCOF does not respond refuting any facts brought forward in OrganicEye’s investigation, refuses to acknowledge that Organic Insider offered the opportunity to do so, and publicly threatens to sue Organic Insider for reporting on what OrganicEye is doing.
We welcome questions or comments from organic industry stakeholders. As with the balance of our investigative work, any such dialogue will be held in strict confidence.