Home » Dear NOSB: Big Ag in Organic

“Dear NOSB”

“Big Ag creates a disconnection from the land and from the people doing the actual work on the land.” – Read Dave's letter about his National Organic Standards Board testimony and reflection below.

A photo of Michael Pollan wearing a suit and tie and speaking into a microphone

Blue background with a white text box with black text that reads: "“Democracy is threatened by large concentrations of wealth. People knew this and understood this at the turn of the last century. And that’s why they wrote the Sherman Antitrust Act and all the other antitrust legislations. They were written not to protect consumers from price-fixing, although that’s all we hear about anymore. They were written to protect the republic against concentrations of power. That it was totally understood that if corporations got so big that they could push the government around and distort everything.” - Michael Pollan in the Real Organic Podcast "

Hi Friend,

I testified to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) a few weeks ago.

In the short time that I was at the meeting, I heard the phrase “circular firing squad” more than once. I suspected they were talking about me.  Had I missed the memo on talking points? The phrase was always used in a cautionary tone, implying that we must avoid the grievous mistake of dividing “ourselves.” It echoed Ben Franklin’s famous statement: “We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

This was actually the theme of my testimony, as the USDA has started picking off certifiers, one by one, who refuse to certify hydroponics as organic. Only by coming together can we avoid being hung separately.

But let's talk about the “circular firing squad.”

This phrase evokes a powerful image. It is often used in organic discussions by advocates for the “big tent” who would welcome huge corporate players into the organic movement. 

We all like to be nice people and welcome newcomers into organic. Isn’t that the whole point? To grow organic? And to do that, must we bring in the Big Ag Boys? After all, they grow most of the food eaten in America.

I have concerns over bringing in the Big Boys.

There ARE problems inherent to scale:

  • Large agribusinesses siphon off money from a community and then distribute it to a few owners far away.
  • The money drain impoverishes the local community. Both California's Central Valley and Kansas are clear examples of this.
  • Big Ag creates a disconnection from the land and from the people doing the actual work on the land.
  • Once a company is large enough, it is almost impossible to steer it away from the single bottom line as its guiding light.

As we have seen many times over, the profit motive will not guide us to a sustainable world.

We need to grow beyond that if we are to survive, let alone thrive.

And they have so much power.

An image of a black bull with white horns running on light brown soil. A red wall is behind him. Text over the soil reads ""Capital is a world unto its own. And so it is the veritable bull in the china shop. It twitches and then people's lives are badly impacted and they suffer." - from Paul Hawken in the Real Organic Podcast"

But putting aside our concerns about the erosion of democracy by corporate influence, shouldn’t the Big Boys be welcomed if they play by the rules?

Well, to quote Allan Savory, “Even a gentle bull is a problem in a china shop.”

The logic for demanding silence is that public debate will divide us. But the truth is that we have been divided for a long time.

There is the organic industry and there is the organic movement.

The organic industry has followed the “no public debate” guideline for a long time. They see the world as divided between Big Chemical Ag and Big Organic Ag. So they have followed the strategy of supporting almost all Big Organic players. And that is why the Organic Trade Association (OTA) has Aurora, Cargill, Danone, Driscoll's, and Wholesum Harvest as members.

That is why OTA and CCOF fought very publicly to allow the certification of “container” hydroponic production as organic. And that is why hydroponic is now flooding the organic market.

Their attempt to “grow” organic is killing it.

But they were very polite.

They used positive language as they damaged organic.

They dismissed those who objected as “purists” and “Luddites.”

But they were very “nice” about it. Always a smile.

There is consensus in the organic movement about hydroponics, CAFO confinement, and grain fraud.

Most “real” organic farmers agree on these topics. So to publicly discuss these subjects is not “dividing” the organic movement. Rather it is unifying us.

The organic label is being invaded by corporate Colonists. As with most other colonists, they care little for the Indigenous peoples or the health of the land. Their interest is in what they can take, and what they can sell.

So, no, we are not part of a firing squad. We are trying to protect that which we have built. Some have become refugees, leaving the word “organic” entirely behind, and starting over.

What to call it? Regenerative? Already lost. Agroecological? Now being invaded. Biological? It won't last long. There is no place to hide from the Colonists. As soon as a movement starts to succeed in the public imagination, they will be there.

So…. Some of us have chosen to stand and defend “organic.” We call it Real Organic. We can't do it alone. Please join us.

Dave

Crates of radishes and turnips with the Real Organic Project logo

Our second Real Organic Book Club session was a pleasure.

Paul Hawken was our speaker. The session is still available to all members of the Real Friends.

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