Is it ORGANIC?
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Is it Organic?
When all else fails, throw mud at the wall and see if something sticks. This is the M.O. of the Cornucopia Institute.
Instead of responding to the charge that they're not really looking out for domestic organic farmers, the George-Soros-funded activists who "fly desks" at the offices of Cornucopia have decided instead to do a drive-by smear.
If you have questions, get in touch with me by going to my contact page. I will post your questions and my answers right here!
By the way, before anyone asks, I have no connection whatsoever to the Hudson Institute as Cornucopia implies. (Sorry guys; nice try.)
(Note, all quotations below are from the Cornucopia Institute's "Reigniting Organic Attack by Corporate Agribusiness Interests" June 14th, 2011.)
Q: Cornucopia founder Mark Kastel claims that “Nowhere in the food industry have entrepreneurs and investors realized greater financial reward, with virtually no governmental funding, than in meeting the higher standards consumers are seeking by paying a premium for organic food.” Is this true?
A: The organic industry receives a great deal of funding from government. In fact, taxpayers are forced to pay for organic food even if they never buy it. It would be one thing if this funding went towards the improvement of organic science, or to actual organic farmers; but it all goes to political activism. As for “higher standards,” there are none; all that’s required to become certified organic is to fill out paperwork and pay fees, fees which also go toward political activism instead of science or farmers.
Q: The Research Director at Cornucopia (Will Fantel), claims to support the need for field testing. He states: "We think there is great merit in doing spot testing, as Congress required." So why the disagreement?
A: Cornucopia only supports SPOT testing. This is like a policeman only using a radar gun when he thinks someone is speeding. The police use radar guns all the time and that helps them catch speeders. If Fantel and all the people who support Cornucopia were really interested in catching cheaters, they'd support one-test per-farm per-year.
Q: Fantel claims "it would be prohibitively expensive to test all farms and crops." Does this explain why there is no organic field testing?
A: Field testing would cost ONE-TENTH what the current bureaucratic system costs. Cornucopia doesn't want field testing because it will cut into their political funding, much of which comes from people with a political agenda, or from cheaters.
Q: Fantel also says that field testing "would not substitute for other careful oversight protocols.”
A: The "careful oversight protocols" Fantel is referring to include looking at an applicant's paperwork to ensure there's no evidence of non-compliance. That's not "protocol"; that's a free-for-all, and Fantel knows it.
Q: Cornucopia says that the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) is "sensitive to the need for spot tests [and] is currently soliciting public comments on a new federal rule outlining the periodic residue testing of organically produced agricultural products." Does this answer your concerns as an organic inspector?
A: Sadly, no.
First, there's no need to come up with a new rule. President Clinton put organic field testing in the original NOP way back in 1997. But the industry has ignored it.
Second, spot testing is not the answer; they don't "spot test" Olympic athletes and, as explained, when the police run a speed trap they don't spot check cars.
Third, more often than not, spot testing involves the testing of agricultural end-products after harvest. This misses the point because most prohibited substances dissipate rapidly; that's why field testing is the only solution.
Don't forget, field testing will cost ONE-TENTH what the current honor-based system costs.
Q: Fantel says, "there is no documentary evidence to believe that widespread fraud is currently occurring in the organic industry.”
A: As long as there's no field testing, how will we ever know if there's fraud? It's like taking radar guns away from policemen and then claiming no one's speeding. With that said, there is a great deal of organic fraud, especially from countries like China that supply billions of dollar's worth of "organic" food to the North-American market. See my article on RealClearScience.
Q: Cornucopia says people are "confused" by your credentials. Are you actually a qualified organic inspector as per the requirements of the International Organic Inspectors Association?
A: I sure am! I have taken all of IOIA's training courses, I have taken four rookie inspectors out under my wing for their IOIA apprenticeships, and I organized an Advanced Inspector Training Course for IOIA.
The reason the Executive Director of IOIA, Margaret Scoles, has asked me "not to use the IOIA name in any way" is because she disagrees with my stand on the need for field testing. She refuses to renew my membership in IOIA, but fortunately one does not need to be a current member of IOIA in order to be a qualified organic inspector.
Q: Margaret Scoles says, "he [Mischa Popoff] has never worked for us and has no affiliation with IOIA.” Is this true?
A: Yes. I have never worked for IOIA, except of course when I organized that Advanced Inspector Training course for them in 2003; but that was volunteer work. Organic inspectors are independent contractors and do not work for IOIA unless they're hired in an administrative role. All organic inspectors who work as actual field inspectors do not work for IOIA.
Q: Scoles also says there is no such thing as an Advanced Inspector, and that you just made up the title. Is this true?
A: I most certainly did not make up the title. Have a look at IOIA’s Advanced Inspector Trainings that focus on specific topics.” (p. 4)..., (Copyright of IOIA, March 27, 2008), in which it clearly explains that “IOIA offers 3 categories of Basic Organic Inspector Training, plus
You can also go to the IOIA website where you will find their Training Schedule in which you will see repeated mention of Advanced Organic Inspector Training.
For years now, the IOIA has tried to attack me on the basis that I have no credentials as an Advanced Organic Inspector. As you can see by going to the News page of this website, everyone in the media recognizes my credentials. On only a few occasions has a reporter asked to see copies of my certificates, which I am always happy to provide.
Q: Cornucopia claims that you hold "ultra-conservative views." Is this true?
A: Like most farmers, I am a small "c" conservative. I'm not even sure what an ultra-conservative is. I believe in family and I don't believe humankind is causing global warming, just to give a couple examples. Maybe that's what they mean. In Canada we have a Conservative Party, but I am not a member of it.
Q: Cornucopia states that "Mr. Popoff’s contention that the organic industry has some kind of socialist/liberal agenda is a gross misnomer,” and they go on to point out that people with all sort of political views participate in the organic business at all levels. Is this true?
A: It sure is! What I have actually said is that the organic industry has been taken over from the top by self-avowed socialists like George Soros who want permanent bureaucracies put in place instead of scientific institutions. I have yet to have anyone prove this wrong.
Certainly there's a strong mix of both "conservative" and "liberal" farmers making up the rank-and-file of the organic industry in North America. But as you make your way up the organic food chain there are less and less conservative-minded people. And, as you approach the upper echelons, you'll find a deep-seated desire for full government involvement. This is a shame when you consider that farmers started the organic industry in North America back in 1973 with NO government support.
All we need in the organic industry is government recognition. We certainly don't need subsidies or handouts, and the less government interference the better. Again, if this makes me an "ultra-conservative" in some people's minds, I suggest they go visit a few organic farmers in North America and see just how comon these views are.
Q: Kastel claims you have "promoted a testing business that would directly benefit from this recommended approach.” Is that true?
A: No, that's false. I have only ever promoted organic field testing in my capacity as an independent organic inspector. I will no more benefit from the introduction of field testing than any other organic inspector who wants to clean up the industry.
Elsewhere, some have tried accusing me of owning my own lab company, or of having a partnership of some sort with a lab company. That's not true; labs cost millions of dollars to set up and operate, and with literally hundreds of them already in existence, why would I want to own one?
Q: You have said that Cornucopia receives funding from Organic Valley Family of Farms Brand (a company that Cornucopia founder Mark Kastel used to work for) and liberal billionaire George Soros. But Fantel denies this saying "[we] fully stand by our independence as an organic industry watchdog." Who's telling the truth?
A: If Cornucopia is really independent, then who funds them? They don't produce anything; they don't even sell their services. So where do they get their money? Well, it turns out they get all of their funding from liberal funding institutions, institutions which get their money from... wait for it... Organic Valley and George Soros! Fantel might try to claim he was not aware of this, but I figured it out; why didn't he?
I have asked Cornucopia numerous times to post a complete list of all their funding sources. So far they refuse to do so. Meanwhile, I have no funding sources. None. Sorry guys.
Q: You've been accused of making false statements about the complete lack of field testing in the organic industry. The Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA), one of America's largest and longest standing organic certifying bodies, has responded by pointing out that the contract they require farmers and processors sign reads as follows: "The inspector shall have the right to make unannounced visits, take samples, and require residue tests." Doesn't this mean there's already field testing?
A: No. It might say on paper that the inspector has the right to do a test, but OCIA has never disclosed the number of tests they actually perform because they don't perform any. I worked for OCIA from 1998 to 2001, performing over 300 inspections for them. On numerous occasions I recommended that a test be performed, but not a single one was ever done. Finally, OCIA grew tired of my requests for tests on their paying clients (tests that OCIA didn't want to pay for), and they fired me.
Q: Doesn't the USDA NOP state that "Additional inspections may be announced or unannounced at the discretion of the certifying agent or as required by the Administrator or State organic program’s governing State official"?
A: Yes, that is a true statement. However, this is rarely if ever done. Keep in mind that field testing costs ONE-TENTH what the current bureaucratic system costs. So instead of a lousy spot test (which is what's described in this quote), why not test every single organic farm at least once per year?
Q: Peggy Linzmeier, the President of OCIA, takes exception to your criticisms of the organic industry. She says “We take our responsibility to follow up on any questionable activities in organics very seriously.” She also charges that your “fictitious stories, challenging the credibility of the organic label, are injurious to all the farmers and organizations in this industry that are acting with high integrity.”
A: If Linzmeier thinks I'm not being fair, she should respond with facts. Come one Peggy, let's see them! How many organic farms do you test in an average year?
It's worth noting that OCIA's operations in China were decertified by the USDA last year for OCIA's failure to properly inspect Chinese organic farms. China supplies billions of dollar's worth of "organic" food to the American market, and certifiers like OCIA make a cut in the form of a "royalty" from each and every farm, as well as each and every transaction. No wonder they won't say how many tests they've done. It's this free-flow of cheap, Chinese "organic" goods that certifiers like OCIA profit from that hurts all the honest organic farmers here in North America that are acting with integrity.
Q: Cornucopia defends OCIA on the basis that it is a nonprofit certifier that predates the USDA's NOP. Shouldn't you be more respectful of groups like OCIA?
A: As mentioned above, certifiers like OCIA collect royalties from each and every single certified-organic transaction under their watch. So they have no interest in slowing down the gravy train by field testing their clients. Imagine if policemen took a cut from each speeding ticket they didn't hand out. That's how organic certification works.
Most organic certifiers are not non-profits. But even non-profit entities are allowed to pay huge salaries and bonuses to their staff and executive. In 2008 alone, OCIA certified more than $3 billion-worth of organic products, a great deal of which came from China. OCIA's royalty structure requires payments between 1.5% to 3% of gross revenue! I'll let you do the math to figure out how much certifiers like OCIA are raking in.
For consultations or expert testimony, please visit my new website:
Mischa Popoff, B.A. (Hons.) U. of S. and USDA-contract IOIA Organic Inspector
Policy Advisor for The Heartland Institute
Research Associate for The Frontier Centre for Public Policy
Is it Organic?