Sign Your Proxy Letter: Demand Biden/Vilsack Listen to Organic Farmers and Consumers

I mailed the letter below to OrganicEye members and supporters last month. Right now, I’m asking you to please join us in doing three things to protect organic farming. It’s under threat by an unholy alliance between corporate agribusiness and the USDA.

  1. Please download and sign your proxy letter, addressed to President Biden and USDA Secretary Vilsack, demanding that they discontinue the precedent of listening to the business lobbyists at the Organic Trade Association (OTA) instead of farmers and consumers like us.
  1. Share this message with your friends, family, and colleagues. You can leverage your ability to turn around the erosion in organic integrity—spread the word!
  1. And finally, I would respectfully ask you to consider making a contribution in support of the OrganicEye mission. This is totally optional. We will still deliver your proxy to the President and USDA Secretary—a contribution is not required. But we have a $50,000 challenge grant right now and you can help strengthen OrganicEye’s ability to make a difference in this campaign and moving forward.

Who owns the organic label? We all do! And I, for one, am tired of the corporate kingpins, instead of us, calling the shots at the USDA’s National Organic Program.

Thanks very sincerely for your consideration,

Mark Kastel

LATE-BREAKING NEWS: Late last week, USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack appointed a Senior Advisor for “Organic and Emerging Markets.” He chose a lawyer who is the former VP and chief lobbyist of the OTA, and the founding Executive Director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Food Safety Coalition (industrial growers of hydroponic greens). I wish I was making this up. I can’t think of anyone less qualified to represent our interests. Please help us convince Secretary Vilsack to listen to the founders of the organic movement instead of corporate lobbyists.

Dear Members/Supporters of truth in food production and labeling,

Right now, there might be a window of opportunity to make a real change in the trajectory of the organic farming and food movement. It’s been hijacked by corporate agribusiness. However, for the first time in decades (whether a Democrat or Republican was in office), we have a President who’s making noise about the impacts of consolidation and anticompetitive practices on working people and farmers.

President Biden has included agriculture in his initiative to make the marketplace fairer. Please sign the linked letter to join me in challenging the President, and USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack, to include the corporate takeover of organics in the reforms.

I have been fighting the lobbyists at the Organic Trade Association (OTA) for decades. Even though they are a trade association representing thousands of businesses (many of which are multibillion-dollar agribusinesses primarily selling conventional food), they have invested heavily in convincing policymakers that they are a “public interest group” promoting the well-being of farmers and consumers.

Why should rulemaking and enforcement be any different in organics than anything else that goes on in Washington? Because we said so!

OrganicEye recently put out a white paper documenting that almost all the members of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), which was designed by Congress as a buffer against corporate influence, are now members of, or have some affiliation with, the OTA. I call this “regulatory capture.”

When there was a healthier balance of power on the NOSB and the board flexed their muscles by, as an example, banning antibiotic use on tree fruit in organic production, members of the OTA called the move a “travesty” and suggested that the NOSB was “out of control.” 

Now the OTA is partnering with Congress to rewrite the key federal law governing organics, the Organic Foods Production Act. Let’s not let them get away with a total hijacking of what we all have built together—an alternative farming and food system.

Instead of the overreliance on lobbyists to help write laws (which is all too common in the halls of power), OrganicEye is strongly suggesting Congress, USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack, and the members of the NOSB create balance by amplifying the voices of the nonprofit public interest groups that have, for decades, helped launch, nurture, and monitor the growth of organics. 

Please sign the letter. All voices need to be heard in organics, not just the OTA.

The Gumshoes at OrganicEye to the Rescue

With your help, we will continue to protect the working definition of organics, promoting environmental protection, humane animal husbandry, economic-justice for the people who produce our food—and a true marketplace alternative supplying safe and nutritious food to all of us who care. Here’s a bit of what we have been up to, so far, in 2021:

  1. We just filed our second lawsuit on the fraudulent use of the word “organic” in marketing materials and labeling, targeting two companies selling CBD products labeled as organic without going through the certification process. A few years ago, my efforts forced USDA to issue a memorandum about the use of “organic” in product brand names when the products weren’t, in fact, certified organic (compelling Newman’s Own Organic and others engaged in manipulative advertising to change their names). Why is USDA asleep at the wheel now?
  1. The proxy letter is part of a campaign to educate and encourage members of Congress, political appointees and bureaucrats at USDA, and participants in the industry to distance themselves from OTA lobbyists. Iconic brands, like Nature’s Path cereal and granola, Dr. Bronner’s soap, personal care, and food products, and superfoods pioneer Nutiva, have resigned their memberships in the lobby group. Please stand with them by signing the letter!
  1. OrganicEye has taken a leadership position in supporting dairy farmers who are competing with factory farms that push their cows for high production, burning them out and sending them to an early slaughter, and then replacing the organic cows with animals born and raised on conventional CAFOs (with antibiotics and banned agrichemicals). That’s not organic! We are the one group that is lobbying to make sure that this needed crackdown will not inadvertently prevent new family farmers, or those who have been forced out of business, from repopulating their barns.

Additionally, a number of corporate owners of the Horizon brand, which procures much of their milk from “factory farms,” have been OTA leaders and/or served on the lobby group’s Board of Directors. Horizon recently told 90 family farmers in the Northeast that they will no longer buy their milk, opting to switch to cheaper alternative sources instead. Please stand with these families facing economic disaster.

  1. USDA has opened the floodgates to imports of illegal, fraudulent organic feed for livestock and ingredients that you or I might be eating. OrganicEye is supporting businesses that have appealed to federal regulators, accusing the scofflaws of “dumping” organic soy in the US at under the cost of production, and we are getting the word out on illegal pesticide contamination in these so-called organic imports. Outrageous!

Please visit our website and click on “News” to read the full scope of our activities.

Won’t you please support this effort by making a donation at this critical time? To sweeten the prospect, I am pleased to announce that one of our largest donors will double cumulative donations up to $50,000! We are humbled by their commitment and confidence in our work.

Almost 35 years ago, I shifted to an all-organic diet after being virtually disabled from what physicians attributed to pesticide poisoning. Seventeen years ago, I shifted from my role as an organic farmer and development/political consultant to family farm organizations and cooperatives to fighting the forces hell-bent on hijacking the organic label.

With your help, we will continue to go after these scofflaws and a USDA looking the other way. We will fight corrupt companies in the marketplace and the courts. Please sign and return the enclosed petition to stand with the organic community (a donation is optional).

This effort would not be possible without you and others who have invested generously to ensure we have the resources to carry out this mission. I am once again asking you to invest in something that is “bigger than we are.” There is nothing more important to our society than the health of our families and neighbors. And that is influenced, to a tremendous extent, by what we eat and how it is grown.

If you are already a member of OrganicEye, please consider this your 2021 membership renewal. If not, we would be honored by your support and financial backing. [And if you have contributed recently, please accept my sincere thanks.]

As I have mentioned in previous correspondence, OrganicEye is a project of Beyond Pesticides, a trusted nonprofit celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. OrganicEye operates under my leadership and with our own segregated operating budget.

And lastly, our most important tactic is empowering consumers and wholesale buyers to make good, discerning decisions in the marketplace. We all control the ultimate revenue stream of these businesses. They all want our money. Our continuing Kastel’s Kitchen video series is designed to help in choosing the very best food for our families and maximizing the pressure each of us can exert in the marketplace.

Please empower yourself by visiting our website and clicking on “Resources” to view past Kastel’s Kitchen broadcasts on:

  • Avoiding dangerous additives (some even carcinogenic) in organic food. Yes, there can be some really dangerous ingredients in organic food!
  • Secrets to decoding food labels.
  • Selecting the safest and most nutritious organic produce—year-round.
  • Avoiding fraud by selecting the best, highest-integrity brand names in organics.
  • Finding the finest yogurts in terms of quality, safety, and nutrition. Not all organic brands are created equal. I profile brands using milk from family farms and cows that graze, as opposed to factory dairies, as well as those that shun additives, some of them dangerous.

Please join me in this effort by either sending a check made payable to OrganicEye: 

701 E Street SE Suite 200
Washington, DC 20003

or by visiting our secure donation page at: 

Whether you donate at this time or not, please do return the petition. Together our voices can make an impact.

The organic movement was founded on a loving collaboration between farmers and dedicated customers. If we are going to save it, that same unified effort will be essential.

Be well/stay safe!

Mark Kastel, Director

PS: Your financial support during our second full year of operations will have a material impact on our capacity to carry out this mission—and right now the generous offer from a family foundation will match your donation dollar for dollar to $50,000.