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Charges of Corruption at the Organic Trade Association, My Take on the Matter

Over the last few days, there has been an incredible amount of drama surrounding the Organic Trade Association (OTA), the major lobbying group of the organic industry.

A video was posted anonymously on YouTube (under the name OrganicSpies) that claims a huge conflict of interest on OTAs board is preventing the organization from fulfilling its unwavering support for organic.

The video exposes several members of the board of directors, including the chairman of the board, who have very strong financial ties to huge multinational companies.

While these multinational companies do generate a small percentage of their sales from organic food, a large majority of their revenues come from the sale of genetically-modified foods. Hence, it is not in the true interest of these corporations to push for the mandatory labeling of gm-foods.

Therefore, the video charges that these conflicted board members have an interest in the OTA not pushing hard for the mandatory labeling of genetically-modified foods.

The U.S. government believes that consumers do not have a right to know that their food has been genetically-altered.

Other governments around the world (Europe, England, Japan and Australia – to name a few) think differently and require that all genetically-modified foods be labeled. These governments are not beholden to major food conglomerates and put the health of their citizens ahead of corporate profits.

In a piece on TreeHugger, former OTA board member Arran Stephens, CEO of the still independent organic cereal company Nature’s Path, basically defends everything the video is saying. He claims that there was:

“a tight-knit group of four or five at the top (of the Board) which did not listen or respond to me whenever I urged the OTA to take a firm stance against GMOs–which I considered to be the greatest-ever threat to organics, but I was consistently ignored. Although a couple of other Board members quietly supported me, they didn’t have the courage to take on the cabal at the top.”

In a follow-up release, Stephens softened his initial comments and said that the OTA has done some good work against gm-foods as of late. Clearly, he received a tremendous amount of pressure from some of his organic colleagues.

Also, the OTA, in a letter to its members, defended all of its work in trying to get labeling approved.

My Take

I used to be a member of OTA and then decided not to renew my membership this year. Why?

When the GE-alfalfa issue was being debated at the USDA, there were three possible solutions.

1) Complete deregulation – totally disastrous for the organic. GE-alfalfa could be sold and planted without restriction. This is eventually what the USDA approved.

2) Co-Existence — where the seed companies are responsible for contamination.

3) Complete moratorium — where GE-alfalfa could not be sold or planted at all. Many organic advocates believe this was the only option since co-existence simply isn’t possible.

The Center for Food Safety, an organization that I fully support, called for a complete moratorium on GE-alfalfa while the OTA called for co-existence.

When I called the OTA asking for an explanation on why they took this stance, the answer I got was “you don’t understand how hard it is.” Huh???

While I have absolutely no doubt that the OTA does a lot of good work, I also believe that the composition of its board of directors is creating a very serious conflict of interest.

The OTA ought to do the right thing and clean up its board. Until it does, the integrity of the OTA will always have a cloud hanging over its head.

If things change, will I consider rejoining the OTA one day? Absolutely.

I don’t feel good about withdrawing my membership from the OTA, but I have very limited dollars and need to make sure that my interests and that of the non-profit are completely aligned.

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