By a unanimous vote of its Board of Directors, the U.S. organic farmer-controlled Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) has withdrawn its membership from the Organic Trade Association (OTA), OSGATA announced on Wednesday.
OSGATA’s decision was prompted by OTA’s duplicity towards organic farmers and consumers when a small number of OTA board members endorsed a dangerous Senate bill that would immediately preempt existing strong state GMO Labeling laws that are widely supported by the Organic community and ninety percent of consumers.
Biotech giant Monsanto is universally recognized within the Organic community as organic’s greatest threat. Recent revelations have made clear that the OTA has created numerous close partnerships with Monsanto including intensive lobbying efforts by the notorious biotech-linked lobbyist Podesta Group on behalf of the deal brokered by Senators Stabenow (D-MI) and Roberts (R-KS).
The Stabenow-Roberts (S.764) is a Senate bill – backed by industrial agriculture and large food conglomerates and whose primary intent are nullifying of historic mandatory GMO Labeling laws passed by huge margins in Vermont, Maine, Connecticut and Alaska legislatures and relieving multinational food companies of the requirement to clearly label products that were produced by genetic engineering.
OTA support for the Monsanto-backed bill proved essential for passage. Last week Stabenow-Roberts passed in the Senate by a narrow four-vote margin of victory on a vote of 63-30.
“It’s important for the world to understand that it was the Organic Trade Association that killed our state GMO labeling laws by backing Monsanto’s Stabenow-Roberts bill,” said Maine organic seed farmer and longtime OSGATA President, Jim Gerritsen.
“It’s clear that Organic Trade Association has come under the control of a small group of lobbyists controlled by giant-food corporations that also own organic brands. In an effort to protect their own bottom lines and those of their parent companies, the reckless actions of these large parent-owned organic companies threaten the survival of organic farmers and the organic community we have all worked so hard for decades to build. The Organic Trade Association can no longer be trusted and it’s clear that organic farmers can no longer condone this dubious trade association’s troubling behavior. Effective immediately, the farmer-run organic seed trade group OSGATA resigns from OTA and we call on other honest organic organizations and companies to do the same.”
OTA’s efforts in support of the industry-backed bill included misleading assertions made to its membership and the public about what the bill would accomplish. These assertions included false statements that the bill will require mandatory disclosure of GMO ingredients nationwide and would cover thousands more products than Vermont’s and other states’ GMO labeling laws.
The FDA, Consumers Union, and numerous others have pointed out that the bill’s definitions, ambiguities, lack of penalty authority, and other provisions fail to guarantee on-package product transparency.
Further, OTA’s efforts had the intentional effect of misleading Senators into believing the bill had the full backing of the organic industry when the truth was the exact opposite. The OSGATA Board of Directors has terminated OTA’s membership in OSGATA due to violations of OSGATA’s Code of Ethics. OSGATA’s Code of Ethics requires that members refrain from false or misleading statements to the public and/or conduct that brings discredit on OSGATA or himself/herself.
“OSGATA is a well-respected farmer-run membership trade organization dedicated to protecting and developing organic seed for organic farmers around the world” said Lisa Stokke, OSGATA Board officer and representative from OSGATA-member Food Democracy Now! based in Iowa.
“OTA’s devious actions constitute serious violations of our Code of Ethics and dictated that OSGATA immediately terminate their membership. OSGATA’s withdrawal from OTA and their termination of membership serves to completely sever OSGATA from any further destructive actions by the OTA and the handful of dishonest corporate lobbyists that falsely represented the organic industry to our elected officials in Washington DC. It’s important to us that Congress and the public understand that OTA’s values and interests do not match nor represent that of the Organic community, including organic family farmers and the millions of organic consumers who purchase more than $40 billion of organic food annually based on a relationship of trust, openness and transparency.”
OSGATA had been a member of OTA for eight years. OSGATA’s members had become distressed in recent years over OTA’s increasingly divisive behavior on many issues important to organic farmers. In 2015, by a unanimous vote of its membership, OSGATA members voted to vigorously oppose OTA’s proposal for an involuntary tax on organic farmers, known as the “Organic Checkoff”. OTA continues to misrepresent its Organic Checkoff proposal to federal officials as having widespread support among organic farmers. OTA’s false assertions have been strongly challenged by a growing army of vocal opponents.
OSGATA gained notoriety in 2011 when it became lead plaintiff in the landmark federal lawsuit, OSGATA et al v. Monsanto, in which organic farmers and their allies fought to challenge the validity of Monsanto’s transgenic seed patents and sought court protection for farmers from potential Monsanto patent infringement litigation should Monsanto’s patented seed trespass onto and contaminate their organic crops. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., rewarded farmers with a partial victory when it held that Monsanto is judicially estopped from suing any farmer whose crops inadvertently become contaminated by trace amounts of Monsanto’s patented seed technology.
“In OSGATA et al v. Monsanto, we showed we weren’t afraid to stand up to the biggest patent bully on the face of the planet,” said farmer and OSGATA board member, Lyn Howe of Beach Road Farm in Hawaii and acting Director for Hawaii Seed Growers Network. “Now that it’s become clear OTA has teamed up with Monsanto and is endangering everything that we believe in, this is the last straw. It’s high time we leave OTA behind and join and work with others who understand organic farming is the right way to farm and the wave of the future.”