Tuesday, July 03, 2018 by Isabelle Z.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is meant to protect and promote organic food and farming, but they’ve been facing a slew of criticism in recent years for siding with conventional agribusiness. Now, one organic food production pioneer has grown so frustrated with the industry lobby group that he has resigned in protest.
The Founder and Co-CEO of Nature’s Path, Arran Stephens, announced in a letter that he was pulling his firm out of the OTA. He wrote: “Our departure from the OTA is an act of protest to raise awareness of our concerns that the important role organic plays in support of the health of consumers and our planet is being compromised.”
The family-owned company headquartered in British Columbia produces organic breakfast and snack food in more than 50 countries around the world.
Stephens expressed concerns about the role the OTA played in negotiating a compromise on GMO labeling in Congress that saw federal laws preempting states from passing laws that mandate labeling food created by genetic engineering.
The OTA actively worked on getting the GMO labeling law passed despite not having the expressed consent or knowledge of many of its members. He said that the bill goes against what he considers a basic human right – food transparency – that exists in 64 other countries that have instituted clear GMO labeling.
Nature’s Path is just the latest organic food company to walk away from the group. The OTA has been coming under increasing pressure as it represents corporate agribusiness interests at the expense of the core values held by consumers, farmers, and the business leaders who founded it. Dr. Bronner’s also recently withdrew from the association over the GMO labeling issue.
Another big concern cited by Nature’s Path was OTA’s support for allowing hydroponics to be part of the organic certification labeling system despite the lack of organic agriculture and soil used in its production.
Stephens added: “We believe giant food corporations, that also happen to own small organic brands, use the OTA to influence policy decisions to protect the best interest of their large, non-organic food portfolios.”
It’s a big loss for the association. Nature’s Path was one of the first companies to gain organic certification in North America, and they founded the OTA’s predecessor, Organic Merchants, in 1971. The company said they plan to continue investing in supporting the organic food movement. Their membership in the Canadian Organic Trade Association will continue, and they also plan to continue funding research by groups like the Organic Farmers Association and the Organic Center. They’re also pursuing other investment opportunities that reflect their vision for organic.
They’ve also called on consumers to sign a petition in favor of the right to know what is in the food that they eat and create a new law for food labeling that prioritizes safety. They’re devoting a public campaign on their social media channels to this cause.
Meanwhile, the nonprofit organic industry watchdog group The Cornucopia Institute has also taken the OTA to task for its stance on allowing hydroponics to qualify as organic. The OTA has also come under fire for standing behind organic “factory farms,” including dairies that keep thousands of cows in feedlot conditions and have been accused of behaving improperly.
The USDA rebuked the OTA earlier this year for falsely claiming universal support within the organic industry for checkoff taxes for promotion and research after regulators found that support for the proposal was nowhere near a consensus.
Sources for this article include: