Non-profit U.S. sustainable and organic farming advocate Cornucopia Institute in a series of media releases and a virtual press conference in mid to late March 2019, said that some certifiers are betraying organic farmers and consumers, while the USDA has “willfully failed” on a Congressional Mandate to prevent fraud.
In addition to Cornucopia’s investigative analysis, the nonprofit farm policy research group also released a Certifier Report guide rating all 45 USDA accredited domestic organic certifiers on their adherence to the "spirit and letter of the organic law" as gauged by the most prominent allegations of malfeasance currently facing the organic industry.
In Cornucopia ratings, only five out of 45 rated as exemplary (greenlighted), while 23 certifiers were described as fair to excellent (exercise caution) and another 17 had “documented unethical behavior (stop supporting)”.
In a separate graphic analysis, Cornucopia pointed out four cases where it believed that organic certifier CCOF, and two cases where it believed certifier Oregon Tilth were “betraying the spirit of organics: in many cases violating the law”.
Cornucopia co-founder and executive director Mark Kastel said: “For the first time, farmers and organic businesses, that pay the certifiers, can choose to invest their hard-earned money with certifiers that are just as dedicated as they are in protecting the reputation of the organic label and interests of their loyal urban customers.
“Prior to 2002 when federal regulations kicked in, a hodgepodge of state laws and dozens of independently owned certifiers created their own organic standards. Although Congress intended the enforcement of uniform national regulations, a handful of the largest certifiers have allowed livestock factories producing dubious milk and eggs and hydroponic, soil-less indoor farming to illegally squeeze out legitimate family-scale organic farmers and ranchers.
"Make no mistake about it, farmers will be empowered to disrupt the revenue streams of some of the largest and most powerful certifiers in the organic industry by switching to truly ethical alternatives."
Cornucopia alleges that many of the certifiers established by farmers, some in existence since the 1970s and 80s, have morphed from nonprofits dedicated to helping promote environmental animal husbandry and the economic justice benefits of organic farming into multimillion-dollar corporations more interested in pursuing multibillion-dollar corporate agribusinesses.
Marie Burcham, a Cornucopia attorney, and policy analyst who helped write the report said, "Consumers will also be better able to judge whether food products meet their expectations, based on which certifier is listed on the package.
“Federal law requires that manufacturers and distributors of certified products that prominently display the word ‘organic’ and/or the USDA organic seal specify on their packaging who certified the product. This facilitates wholesale buyers' and consumers' use of Cornucopia's certifier ratings.”
On March 30, Cornucopia Institute announced a “change in leadership” and that its Board of Directors would like to thank Mark Kastel for nearly 15 years leading the organization. “His foresight, dedication, and guidance have been instrumental in building Cornucopia into the preeminent organic watchdog and champion for family-scale organic farming,” Cornucopia said.
Cornucopia started a search for a new executive director and has appointed Devin Mathias to guide the organization in an interim role and to direct the search for candidates to present to the board.