Is The Organic Movement a Democracy?

shutterstock_283999568It has been an interesting few months. The national election hasn’t been the only campaign I’ve been engaged in. Seems that when I ask questions that aren’t perfectly in accord with the views of others, a cascade of misinformation is scattered about the internet. I ask you to consider the idea of an organic Democracy where free speech can create vigorous healthy dialogue.

When I write, I write for the entire community, not just one side. Sometimes I reiterate concerns or points of view that others have expressed. The vision of my blog is to stimulate dialogue and to bring forth the issues of the day so they can be discussed and carefully weighed.

In a recent blog, I posed questions that have been asked by organic seed breeders and other informed stakeholders. The concern they have voiced is that the NOSB may ban some seed breeding methods before we can understand their possible benefits and risks. If you take a moment to carefully read the Organic Matters blog post, you’ll note that I state that these GMO technologies “need more investigation and discussion,” that they “must be explored and challenged” and that “they do not belong in organic production.”

Yet the headlines declared:

“Now Gene Editing Techniques are Being Promoted to be Included in Organic Standards by OTA / UNFI” 

“OTA board member and UNFI lobbyist Melody Meyer wrote about allowing “gene editing” – a new form of genetic engineering – into organic standards – a clear sign that the OTA and the corporate paymasters at UNFI want to include these new techniques over the objections of virtually all organic farmers and consumers.”

Asking questions is not an indication of support. Sometimes difficult conversations need to be had, and it is because of public suppression that many in our community are afraid to speak up.

I hope the organic community can become comfortable with individuals initiating these complex conversations in the future.

Here is what you need to know regarding the latest kerfuffle:

  • UNFI is unequivocally opposed to GMOs in organic, and we are not advocating for new gene-editing or any other GMO technologies to be allowed in organic.
  • We interpret the organic regulations to prohibit gene editing as an excluded method.
  • Most of these new techniques are not in the NOP regulations definition which is creating uncertainty and discussion in the organic business community.
  • The work of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is important, and our comments to the NOSB must be focused on getting clarification to remove the uncertainty in the marketplace.

After 40 years of working hard and serving the organic movement, I care deeply about organic. This is the very reason I am willing to be the one who serves forth some of the most difficult subjects.

Elaborating on a point of view should not automatically make the author a turncoat, or one who embraces that specific point of view. A thoughtful author only intends to stimulate stakeholders to weigh the opportunities and risks so that the right outcomes are achieved.

Once again, dear reader, I ask you tough questions:

What kind of movement do we have if no one can bring forward controversial subjects?

Do we tolerate an environment where differing voices are censored??

Would the organic community be better served by ceasing the internal firing and instead take aim at conventional toxic-laden agriculture?

Should we as a community agree to sometimes disagree and work towards a solution?

How do we move forward as a democratic movement that includes free speech, innovation and sometimes dissenting voices?

Putting those questions aside I pledge to you – I will not be dissuaded from unearthing thorny topics. I will not cease to give voice to those who are afraid to be heard. I promise to always serve the organic community with all its intricacies and foibles.

What burning questions do you have about organic food and farming that you want to explore? Let’s lean in together and make this a safe place for civic discourse.

Speak up

19 thoughts on “Is The Organic Movement a Democracy?

  1. Thank you for reminding us the importance of listening to one another and having hard discussions with compassion. I appreciate that you are willing to ask the tough questions (despite the backlash) and to also offer information from multiple angles. We need to get away from blaming and choosing sides and start finding common ground in order to move forward.

  2. Thank you Melody, being a leader is a tough job. As long as I have know you I know you have the organic communities best interest at heart. Keep up the great work!

  3. No, of course the food movement is not a democracy. If it was, OTA would have worked with the whole GMO movement and their whole board and membership before supporting the DARK Act. Shall we have the discussion about that?

    • Hi Pamm,
      The Organic Trade Association leadership is elected by members each year. This is my ninth year serving on OTA’s Board and I have experienced the strength and integrity of that democratic process. OTA is an organization accountable to its membership and dedicated to fulfilling its mission to promote and protect organic.

      We all agree the food and agriculture system needs major change—it’s what businesses, consumers, and activists are all working for. Unfortunately, we won’t agree on each and every incremental step to that end, but we sincerely hope that the tent can be big enough to accommodate all of us who care deeply about the future of food and farming.

      If the food movement chooses strife over progress and punishes alternate views held by those dedicated to the same objectives, we’ve already lost.

      Staying at the table as the GMO labeling law moves through to implementation in this new political landscape, and engaging in a strategic and effective way will make a difference between improving transparency for the consumer and protections for organic, or not.

      I appreciate your commitment to the cause. Melody

  4. Melody,

    Of course this Organic movement is a Democracy! The movement began as a rejection of the green revolution and never looked back. A vote taken by consumers everyday with their purchases demanding “Organically Grown”.

    Where the Democracy is failing in the industry is similar to that which has befallen our Nation. Politics.

    It is my belief that the Industry needs to get back to quality, where it comes from and how to get it. Issues also abound with Organic standards which are a mess due to the the differences between US and European rules. This is a nightmare for those of us that serve both markets.

    Being an Organic grower and working with Organic growers here in Peru, the lack of knowledge amongst those that are supposedly Organic is terribly sad. Organic product that is characterized by low yields, marginal quality and poor shelf life often resulting in cheating to preserve growers incomes. All resulting in a less than satisfied producer not to mention the poor consumer.

    More attention needs to be given to qualitative sciences which to this day are greatly lacking and terribly misunderstood. There is no one size fits all remedy for Organic growers, but there is basic soil science concepts that are guaranteed to work no matter where one is standing. To this day, most growers, whether Organic or otherwise, do not know what it takes to get consistent quality and yields and what doesn’t.

    I just found and joined your blog. Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks Michael for your thoughtful comments. I couldn’t agree with you more. We need more funding for science and research to assist our farmers. I look forward to hearing from you again, Melody Sent from my iPad

  5. Great post…..Same mindset that exists in the two political parties…”Only Purists allowed”…Keep up the fight!
    MF

  6. Thanks for speaking out, Melody. I was appalled to read the way your previous commentary was distorted by some activists. Certainly makes it hard to engage folks in a discussion, and explains why OTA might have been reluctant to do so when the compromise bill was being hashed out. We really need these discussion too–not just on organic questions, now more than ever.

    • I never imagined that my Saturday night entertainment would be drinking beer and reading a book about organic farming, but so it was. The book being “Organic Revolutionary.” That’s a really good book, and it cleared up a lot of questions I had about the organic, well, “industry” that had me thoroughly puzzled.

      Anyway, the organic movement had better be a democracy. The nature of growing food is too variable; everyone’s requirements are different, what works on your side of the hill might not work on my side of the hill. (Hmm… that’s a metaphor for something.) So, everyone needs to give their input.

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