A short documentary by Organic Spies details the corrupting influence of large multinational food companies at the Organic Trade Association (OTA).

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Organic Spies made news by releasing information on the financial interests and campaign contributions of the companies that are represented on the OTA board, but the underlying story of Food Inc.’s efforts to co-opt and water down organic while protecting their interest in industrial agriculture’s GMOs and factory farms, goes back to very start of the National Organic Program.

A case in point is Oregon’s Measure 27 (2002), the first ballot initiative effort to require food companies to label products that contain genetically modified ingredients. The Organic Trade Association ostensibly supported the measure, but didn’t chip in financially.

The food and crop-biotechnology industries raised a war chest to fight the ballot measure. Ironically, some of these companies already had stakes in organic and some had subsidiaries that were members of OTA.

General Mills (currently represented on the OTA board by Craig Weakly of Small Planet Foods), H.J. Heinz Co. (invested in the Hain-Celestial Group), PepsiCo (Tropicana and Quaker produce a few organic products), and Kellogg’s (owns Kashi), joined a coalition of corporate giants – the "Coalition Against the Costly Labeling Law" – including chemical makers Monsanto and DuPont, agribusiness ConAgra, food processor Sara Lee, the pesticide lobbying group CropLife and the junk food lobbying group the Grocery Manufacturers Association, in spending some $5.5 million to defeat mandatory GMO labels.

By contrast, the pro-label group, Oregon Concerned Citizens for Safe Foods, raised only about $100,000 in cash, loans and in-kind contributions and had already spent about $72,000 to collect signatures, when Food Inc. rolled in with $5.5 million to spend on advertising. The Safe Foods group’s largest contributor was Mel Bankoff, founder of Emerald Valley Kitchen Inc., a Eugene, OR organic food company, who gave $47,500, most of it in loans, state records show. The second largest donor was the Organic Consumers Association.

By 2005, the same companies that defeated the Oregon GMO Truth-In-Labeling ballot measure worked through the OTA to execute a sneak attack on organic standards. As Melanie Warner of the New York Times reported at the time,

"Senate and House Republicans on the Agriculture appropriations subcommittee inserted a last-minute provision into the department’s fiscal 2006 budget specifying that certain artificial ingredients could be used in organic food.

"The Organic Trade Association, an industry lobbying group that proposed the amendment and spent several months pushing for its adoption, says that the measure will encourage the continued growth of organic food.

"Some advocacy groups, however, say the amendment will weaken federal organic food standards, first established under a 1990 law. Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, calls the initiative a "sneak attack engineered by the likes of Kraft, Dean Foods and Smucker’s."

"Dean Foods’ subsidiary Horizon Organic and the J.M. Smucker Company, the owner of Knudsen and Santa Cruz Organic juices, said they supported the work by the Organic Trade Association, which represents both large and small companies in the business, but did no lobbying on their own."

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It has only gotten worse in the last 6 years, and as the Organic Spies documentary reveals, OTA’s board has been "modified" by the GMO interests of Food Inc.

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