New Hope 360 Blog

Organic Trade Association versus Organic Spies

Last week, a group called the Organic Spies released a video on treehugger criticizing the Organic Trade Association and drawing into question the members of its 15-person Board for a conflict of interest regarding GMOs. When will the in-fighting stop?

Last week, a group called the Organic Spies released a video on treehugger criticizing the Organic Trade Association and drawing into question the members of its 15-person Board, who will soon be up for re-election. By questioning board members, the video ultimately questioned the OTA's dedication to organic and to fighting against genetically modified foods.

The video, which shows footage from this year's OTA lobby days, suggests that there are at least four current board members who have a conflict of interest in the OTA's fight against GMOs because of the companies they represent. The film primarily goes after Julia Sabin, current board president and vice president and general manager at J.M. Smucker Co., by outlining how she may personally profit, due to her compensation plan, from Smucker's selling GE foods. Only a small portion of Smucker's products are organic products, so the argument lies that by working for Smucker's, she is not strictly dedicated to the sales of organic foods.  

The same argument was attributed to Kelly Shea of Whitewave foods because it is owned by Dean Foods; Chuck Marcy who is a former president at Bryer's, Quaker and Kraft; and Craig Weakley from Small Planet Foods, which is owned by General Mills. The Spies also asked why there wasn't an organic farmer on the board.

Not surprisingly, Christine Bushway, executive director and CEO of OTA was quick to respond, citing that the OTA has held an official position "calling for mandatory labeling of GMO foods since 2000, and both OTA's Board and staff continue to be actively engaged in fighting the proliferation of GMOs to protect organic agriculture and trade and preserve farmer and consumer choice."

I attended the OTA lobby days this spring and there was much conversation about GMOs. Secretary Vilsack spoke, and while it is not his top priority, he did speak very intentionally on this topic with state representatives and it was a subject on the minds of all attending. GMOs are a very intense subject with a lot of nuances, especially for large companies. Many do feel that this issue is bigger than having it fall under the umbrella of organic, which is in part why the Non-GMO Project was started. I have yet to sit in a room, whether at OTA lobby days, Natural Products Expo West or The Organic Summit and hear a concrete definition of how to label non-GMO foods (which I support), and how to manage and certify against the issues of GMO crop drift, etc.

The OTA is a trade organization created to support organic trade. There are many good people on its board, including farmers (but the OFRF also covers the farming arena). But the fact remains that the organic industry is still a slow growth industry representing just over 4 percent in the food and beverage market. If we want to grow the industry, yes, the industry absolutely needs to maintain its integrity, but it also has to engage what may seem like the enemy—larger companies.

Activism is an important element that helped get the organic industry where it is today. But in my mind, one of the reasons organic has a hard time gaining traction is that it keeps pointing the gun at itself instead of outside the industry at the most egregious offenders. The industry needs to work better together. Communicate outward to consumers better and fight fights like GMO better. But if it continues to fight inward, it's very easy for the Monsantos of the world to keep doing their thing and simply ignore organic like a pesky fly on the wall. 

Discuss this Blog Entry 14

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 7, 2011

I agree: Positive change won't come from attacking organic champions because they are part of larger companies who happen to have products that contain GMOs. Organic should be (and is) held to higher standards by the government and by the businesses that provide organic foods to the market; what this does is undermine confidence in organic when we could be rallying around it as a solution to the GMO crisis.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 9, 2011

Wrong. Organic Spies is rightfully holding accountable the board that allegedly represents us. I would argue quite the contrary: until the board is pure, there is no sense in moving forward. We must purge the organization of any potential conflicts of interest.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 9, 2011

Funny. My comment has to be approved by a moderator before it is visible. How very democratic... not. Like control much?

Erin (not verified)
on Jun 9, 2011

GMO is a real threat to organic, I see nothing wrong with calling out those who have a conflict of interest in their positions on the OTA. We cannot sit in silence while large corporations are degrading the organic standard. It does undermine confidence in the USDA organic standard when you see people sitting on the board that have a direct relationship to benefit financially from GMO's.

Let's not keep our silence on this. GMO is an extreme threat to the integrity of organic and we must all speak out against it.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 9, 2011

You are confusing transparency with in-fighting. Of course the powers that be will try to corrupt organic certification and therefore we must protect it. Besides, the idea that people will stop educating the public of the benefits of organic farming is ridiculous.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 9, 2011

Give me a break! There is nothing wrong with questioning your "representatives". Its not hindering the organic movement. No consumer is going to be confused over organics due to questioning the OTA! And if you think the people who are questioning and criticizing the OTA arent doing the same or more to fight companies like Monsanto your mistaken. There is nothing wrong with expecting the best from your representatives and if you dont think they are doing their best job it is your DUTY to address that issue!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 9, 2011

refering to the post I see about undermining organics, you gotta be kidding me! this doesn't undermine organics, it undermines the board members of the ota who "happen" to get a crudload of money off of gmo products. If I want my team to win I'm not gonna hire the coach who gets paid 80% of his/her salary by my opposing team winning..

Jeremy Aitken (not verified)
on Jun 9, 2011

Thanks Organic Spies for bringing this issue of corporate industrial infiltration, and dilution of the organic standard. I note no one has disputed the FACTS presented in the Organic Spies video. The Organic Guarantee should mean no product labeled Organic ever includes a GMO contaminant. The rise of the Non GMO brand is a sign of the weakness of leadership of the Organic industry, and their willingness to place profits over integrity. The Organic standard needs to evolve and adapt, to include testing, if necessary, to assure there is no GMO contamination of our products. I do not not accept "just a bit" of chemical contamination in my organic food, the same should be true for the presence of GMO's. An organic farmer cannot use "just a little" synthetic fertilizer, herbicide, fungicide, or insecticide. This is a critical moment for the Organic movement, and we need to stick to our guns, and weed out the creeping corruption and willingness to collaborate with the enemies of Organic farmers, producers and consumers. It is not infighting to remove those who are clearly conflicted, just maintenance. We can only be united in SUPPORT of those who honestly represent the interests of Organics.

on Jun 9, 2011

I do hope everyone who is on this thread will take part in the OTA vote. I do agree that transparency is critical. And GMOs are an intense threat to the organic industry. I don't think everyone who works for a larger company can be lumped in the same category of a conflict. It's critical that organic representatives are in these companies. But I hear your feedback and I would also like to see this strong energy continue to be directed at "natural" for a clearer definition.

As for the comment on us monitoring responses... the system was built that we have to approve comments, but as you can see from the comments here, we welcome the dialogue and would never not post something because it counters something we have said. We value transparency here, too.

on Jun 9, 2011

Wanted to chime in on two points. First, regarding commenting on NewHope360, if you are signed in as a registered user, your comments are posted immediately. (This is a benefit of registration, so if you're not already registered, I invite you to do it!)

Second, I agree that transparency is critical and that it's important to know and hold accountable those who represent the organic community. However, we would be losing important advocates if we wrote off all organic supporters who happen to work for organizations that sells non-organic. It's often these people in the midst of larger organizations who can most influence the decisions being made and who can spread the values that are at the center of organic. We need their voices and influence, just as we need the grassroots activism and scrutiny that keeps organic pure and honest.

Chris D (not verified)
on Jun 9, 2011

Organic Spies' claims lack merit and it is disappointing to see such a low blow cut through an industry that is already significantly challenged and misrepresented by external detractors. It's particularly disheartening to see them making personal attacks on specific board members. Why not just run a positive campaign in support for the 100% organic companies running for the board? Their approach stands to threaten that movement now.

They've denied and discounted OTA's longtime efforts to eliminate GMOs and push for labeling, which have been on OTA's website for years. They have not answered calls for verification about the presence of GMOs in the non-organic products/brands they decry. Their accusations of "corruption" and "conflict" are based on parent company affiliation, which is an unfair generalization/stereotype, and stock ownership/sale, which is a common reality for employees of public and employee owned companies and no sign of wrongdoing. They have provided no direct evidence that any OTA board members have actively opposed GMO labeling. I hope concerned organic advocates dig deeper into the details before adding to this unproductive, unfounded negativity.

on Jun 10, 2011

I put about 30 hours into writing about this on the Plant Your Dream Blogs.
Here is one post: http://plantyourdream.net/?p=2028

HOW COME GE GOODS ARE NOT LABELED
AND HOW DO WE GET THEM LABELED?

It is a fact of life that on June 7, 2011
there are not enough of us working together
to make sure that GE foods are labeled.
It is a fact of life that on June 7, 2011
there are not enough of us working together
to make sure that GE foods are labeled.

All together now Team, we almost have created a
Tipping point. Let's get the job done through positive
actions.

The facts do not add up in the Organic Spies documentary.

Look deeper, please.

Leslie Goldman
Your Enchanted Gardener

on Jun 10, 2011

Organic Spies FInd Lies? Facts don't add up!

http://curezone.com/blogs/fm.asp?i=1820609

Kelly Shea, one of the organic advocates who has given a life of service to the organic agenda, is demeaned in the documentary Organic Lies. Watch a video here as Kelly in her own words recorded March 11, 2011,calls for support for Jeffrey Smith, one of our lead GMO labeling Advocates. Slow Down, Team. OTA and its board are not the target to get GE labeling done. Spread this.

MORE HERE

WHAT WE NEED TO DO TO GET
GE FOODS LABELED

http://plantyourdream.net/?p=2028

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 10, 2011

I completely disagree with the author. Irrespective of any "official positions" of the OTA, someone who has a financial benefit from selling GMO foods should not serve on the OTA board.
I would feel slightly differently, if such a conflict of interest was disclosed to the members/the electorate before election to such an office. It seems that this has not been the case.
The OTA will only as powerful as it is perceived a credible organisation by the people who's interests it claims to represent. If there is no confidence in the OTA leadership and transparency, the OTA will quickly lose its support and influence.

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