“The reality is we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a very imperfect world. And that’s politics. And you kind of have to navigate, and it’s frustrating. And the reality is I get what you are doing with the Real Organic Certification process that you put in place.
“But in reality, that buys you time, but it doesn’t solve the problem because somebody's going to come along at some point and say, ‘Well, that’s really not organic enough,' or ‘The certification process or the enforcement process isn’t strong enough. We need a Real Real Organic.'
“I mean, the idea here, and you’re absolutely right about this, there needs to be ONE BRAND, and that brand needs to be protected. You're right about that. You shouldn’t have to create a second brand, because if you create a second brand, somebody’s going to create a third brand, and a fourth brand.
“And then it becomes confusing to the consumer. And then the consumer doesn’t know what the hell they’re buying. And then you lose the value proposition. And I personally don’t want that to happen. I do not want that to happen because I understand that value proposition is incredibly important for small and midsize producers to be able to have a snowball’s chance in hell of making it.”
– Secretary Tom Vilsack in the meeting with former NOSB members.
We promised in the last letter we would revisit these comments from Secretary Vilsack. They are very important. They are a clear signal that Mr. Vilsack SEES the problems we are facing with the National Organic Program. He understands that we are in danger of losing when the ONE brand is not protected. Untold damage to the small and midsize farmers who are doing the right thing. Untold damage to the eaters who are trusting that the brand means what it says. Untold damage to health and environment. And untold damage to the ONE brand, because trust in USDA Organic is eroding, and all brands are built on trust.
But there is a terrible confusion in this statement. The suggestion is that building a Real Organic certification with integrity will only be confusing to consumers. And there might even be other brands that will come forward and try for a standard that is even MORE rigorous.
It suggests that would be a problem.
Many truths might confuse the eaters while a large lie would “only” mislead them?
“It's a fundamentally different time.
“I am a different person. And it is a different department.”
– Secretary Vilsack, at his Senate confirmation hearing
We agree with Secretary Vilsack that IF the USDA can mend its fences, then the Real Organic Project can cease to exist. But that is a BIG if.
It will take tremendous commitment to mend those fences, to throw out CAFOs and Hydros from the USDA Organic Program. We heard from the Secretary a desire to come together, but we did not hear the commitment to reclaim the meaning of organic. We don’t blame Vilsack personally for that. This isn't personal. There are billions of dollars at stake here, and going up against corporations with billions of dollars is not for the fainthearted. In the world of Realpolitik, that is very unlikely.
And really, until the Real Organic Project does its job and unites a large coalition of farmers and eaters who DEMAND real organic food, NO Secretary of Agriculture will do it alone. We need to build a movement. Then the politicians will follow.
We have tried reform. We tried very hard to push the USDA into action. What we were told is that these are settled issues, that “things aren’t really that bad, the invasion of organic isn’t that big, that they are going to do better inspections….soon. They are going to throw out the fraud….soon.
Now it is time to do it ourselves. Time for action instead of words. We invite the USDA to join us, to take action, to bring about Real Reform. In the meantime, we shouldn't wait. Please join us. Now. Join 1000 Real Fans. Join the Real Organic movement.
Correction. Several people informed us that Ben Franklin (despite often being quoted incorrectly) did not write the words attributed to him in the last letter. It is still an important idea, but the actual author is unknown.