Before you buy "organic"...

I received this press release at work and found it interesting. I've long wondered whether the organic products offered at chain groceries (especially Wal-mart) are manufactured sustainably, with thought and consideration given to the farmer. This release basically says that big agribusiness are curtailing the organic laws in order to improve their profits. It mentions Horizon as being the largest dairy farmers in the industry, and the brand is readily found at Wal-mart and Reasor's.

While the majority of the release makes the situations sound pretty dire, it's basically a few large farmers that have been breaking the standards of organic dairy farming. The release concludes with, "The good news for consumers, according to the Cornucopia study, is that 85 percent of all name-brand marketers are respecting both the letter and spirit of the federal organic law."

I've posted the entire release and highlighted the parts I found most interesting. I'd love to get some feedback on this. I think, obviously, the best route to go is to buy milk from local farmers, but if you are shopping for dairy at the grocery store, it appears as though Whole Foods might be your best bet. It offers the widest selection so that, once you check Cornucopia's dairy standard and scorecard, you can find a brand that earns high marks. -HW

Collateral Damage: Organic Farmers Being Squeezed Out
Corporate Takeover Threatens Farmers, Mission
Cornucopia, WI — Groups representing organic farmers and their customers are calling on consumers to help save the organic industry by exclusively patronizing dairies, and other brands, that uphold the spirit and letter of the federal organic law. They claim the acquisition of major brands by corporate agribusiness, and their dependence on factory farms, threatens to force families off the land and deprive consumers of the superior nutritional food they think they are paying for.

"This could be the end of the organic industry as we know it," said Mark A. Kastel, codirector of The Cornucopia Institute, widely recognized as the organic industry's most aggressive farming watchdog. The Institute reports that the proliferation of industrial-scale dairies has bloated the organic milk supply, inflated the price of feed for dairy cows, and resulted in a financial crisis for family farmers, even as the market continues to grow—defying the general economic downturn.

The Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute announced today that it has filed formal legal complaints, seeking USDA enforcement, against two more operators of giant industrial dairies. The farm policy research group claims they are "masquerading as organic." Cornucopia also announced that it has released an update to its popular organic scorecard helping consumers make informed choices in the marketplace in selecting dairy brands that represent the highest level of organic practices.

The dairy segment, second only behind fresh fruits and vegetables, represents nearly $4 billion worth of annual revenue or about 15 to 20 percent of the organic industry.

For eight years, participants in the organic community—farmers, consumers, retailers, and other stakeholders—have fought the industrialization of organic milk by giant corporations and factory farms milking as many as 10,000 animals. Although the National Organic Standards Board, the expert panel set up by Congress to advise the Secretary of Agriculture, has voted to crack down on industry scofflaws five times since 2000, Bush administration officials have refused to act.

"This cynical corporate takeover of organic farming, an agriculture segment that is held in high regard by consumers, resulting in a highly successful and growing market, has been aided and abetted by the gross disregard of the USDA's enforcement responsibilities," said Merrill Clark, a certified organic livestock producer and former member of the USDA's National Organic Standards Board.

Cornucopia’s legal complaints to the USDA targeted Phoenix-based Shamrock Farms, which operates an industrial dairy milking approximately 11,000 cows in the desert 54 miles south of their plant, and the Rockview Farms Dairy of Downey, California, the operator of another giant industrial dairy in the desert north of Las Vegas, Nevada.

"When Cornucopia staff visited Shamrock’s operation we found inadequate, overgrazed pasture adjacent to their milking facility, and we were told by Shamrock employees that the confined cows had not been out in weeks," Kastel stated. Federal organic regulations require that cows be grazed.

"Not only do these confinement operations create an unfair competitive playing field, discriminating against all the family farmers who work hard to fulfill both the letter and intent of the national organic standards, they also are denying the consumer the extra healthful nutrients that university studies have verified as being present in the milk of cows that graze fresh green grass," said Kathie Arnold, president of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance.

Cornucopia’s filing of a legal action against Rockview Farms Dairy chronicled similar alleged violations of organic livestock management rules. Rockview Farms, of Downey, Calif., produces its organic milk at a giant industrial farm in the Nevada desert near Amargosa Valley, just northwest of Las Vegas. Its milk is marketed under the Good Heart label.

"Just like Shamrock, Rockview's phony-baloney organic farm primarily confines their cattle in a massive feedlot milking both organic and conventional cows," Kastel affirmed. "This outfit is everything that organics isn't—in addition to confining their cattle, Rockview has been accused of environmental damage and even irrigates some of their land with waste products from a municipal sewage plant."

One way that Cornucopia is fighting unethical corporate players like Shamrock, Rockview, and the industry’s largest dairy, Dean Foods, which markets organic milk under the Horizon label, is to educate and engage consumers.

Cornucopia just updated its organic dairy scorecard, which ranks every brand in the country—large and small—based on their ethical approach to their milk production. It contains 107 organic brands covering fluid milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, and ice cream.

"We have encouraged our 900,000 members and collaborators to use Cornucopia's research when making their purchasing decisions for organic dairy products,” said Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). In the past, OCA has called on its membership to boycott the Horizon brand and milk produced by Aurora Dairy, the nation's largest manufacturer of private-label organic milk.

"We are carefully examining Cornucopia's new findings and are likely to ramp up our pressure campaign to force these bad actors to change their business models or to exit the industry," Cummins added.

The good news for consumers, according to the Cornucopia study, is that 85 percent of all name-brand marketers are respecting both the letter and spirit of the federal organic law.

Besides farmers concerned with their livelihoods, consumers have also voiced dissatisfaction with the USDA's lack of enforcement by the alleged organic scofflaws.

A growing body of scientific literature clearly indicates that legitimately produced organic milk, from pasture-based animals, offers distinct nutritional advantages. This year Newcastle University reported that milk from grazing cows on organic farms contains significantly higher amounts of beneficial fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins.

According to Gillian Butler, livestock project manager for the Newcastle University study, their research “clearly shows that on organic farms, letting cows graze naturally, using forage-based diet, is the most important reason for the differences in the composition between organic and conventional milk.”

"I know I'm not the only consumer who would feel ripped off to know that when I spend extra money on organic milk for my family that it comes from giant factory farms," said Andrea Rae of San Diego, Calif.

The Cornucopia Institute’s updated organic dairy survey and scorecard can be found at www.cornucopia.org. And photo galleries containing images of the Rockview and Shamrock factory farm dairies can also be viewed on the Cornucopia web page.


Andrei Codrescu: After the Bailout

(Heard this on NPR's All Things Considered and loved it. -HW)

I was sharpening my chain saw when they called me from Washington, D.C., to ask me how to fix the economy.

This request focused my thoughts, or the lack of 'em, to such a fine point, I gave my 14-inch Echo an edge it never had. Good enough for cutting half a cord at least, to keep the wood stove going through October. I love not paying the oil company a nickel. Except for the half-gallon of gas and the chain oil, but I'm fixin' to make the thing run on plum brandy. I've got a plum tree.

Ah, where were we? The economy, yes: $700 billion is more than enough money to buy every able-bodied American a chain saw, a solar-powered generator and a stake in a communal well and windmill. Also, red dirt and plum trees. That would probably only cost about $100 billion, and you can use the other $600 billion to buy everybody their house outright.

Now everybody can own their house and be green and self-sufficient, and can go back to whatever they were doing before the world ended: watching TV. Except for me. I was sharpening my chain saw.

So I go back to it, and I see a line of refugees coming up the road to move in with me. Oh my God, it's the '70s again. All my deadbeat friends — dead and alive — are being chased out of their homes and heaven for not owing any money. They are debt-free in a world that can't exist without interest rates. The dead are especially egregious in this regard; you can't squeeze even an extra penny out of them.

Oh, no, now that they are getting closer, I don't even think it's people from the '70s: It's people ... from the future!

It's worse than I thought: These are people independent from foreign oil, carrying solar-powered chain saws, full of American ingenuity. After the bailout, they owned their own homes, they didn't pay into a corporate energy grid, and they didn't worry about food because they grew it on the roof. They didn't drive, because they didn't have any jobs to drive to, and every garage in America was the site of an invention that was so darn beneficial nobody needed anything from the store.

Without worries about money, without a job, and with extra space in the garage to grow food and invent, these people forgot about the stock market, stopped borrowing money, even forgot how to shop — in short they stopped being American. These un-Americans got their exercise raking the compost instead of circling the mall; they home-schooled their children and were never again embarrassed that their kids knew more than they did. Heck, they were in heaven, the place where the pursuit of happiness leads to when you stop pursuing it.

Such self-sufficiency made the economy grind to a halt, so the government had to do something again: They called in the Army to chase everyone out of their self-contained greenhouses.

And now they are coming up the road to my place because I'm a poet, and I live in a compound defended by polygamist haikus.

"What did you do wrong?" I asked the first of the refugees to get over the palisades.

"Nothing," he said. "We just got out of debt and stopped watching TV! So the urge to buy things on credit disappeared. So they sent in the troops. First thing they did was to put a 40-inch plasma TV in every room and fixed it just so we couldn't turn it off. Just like in Orwell, only with much sharper images. They are calling this the Second Bailout, or the Bail Back In."

"At least the Second Amendment is safe," I said. "Nobody took away your guns, and the Founding Fathers didn't say anything about TV."

And with that, my chief haiku welcomed them thus:

make yourselves at home

you won't be bailed in or out again

you're safe in Second Life


Mindfully Hanging the Laundry

By Lewru

As I hung up my laundry to dry yesterday, I had to consciously remind myself to turn my brain back to what I was doing, rather than think about how much faster it would be to toss it all in the dryer. I could have spent the seven or eight minutes that it took to hang it up planning my grocery list or thinking about the 18 other things I needed to complete that day.

But I like stealing tiny pockets of time to just be, even if I have to consciously remind myself to do it. It feels somehow subversive, like I’m circumventing the societal rigmarole for just a minute to be myself, to listen to the birds, to see the seeds I planted last week have come bursting up into little green bowtie sprouts.

With so many things going on – we all have busy schedules! – it can be so hard to continue to choose to do things that take more time, rather than less. I know it is for me. I have to remind myself why it’s important that I hang my laundry or make a meal from scratch or any of the other things I’ve become accustomed to.

I’m choosing to do them for a reason, so that regardless of the miniscule environmental impact these actions might have, at least I know I’m doing what I can to lead a sustainably ethical life. And besides, it doesn’t take that much more time to hang the laundry! And in the trade-off, I saved four kilowatt hours of electricity, got in some stretching, and I got to witness my backyard at precisely that moment, for that little finite slice of time. It will never be the same as it was for those few minutes that afternoon.

I think mindfulness plays a large role in consciously choosing to live a more sustainable life. By mindfulness, I mean being fully in the moment, consciously observing one’s world, feeling the sense of place and connectedness we have with our immediate surroundings. This form of interaction with the world and ourselves can deeply enrich the meaning inherent is something as simple as hanging a load of laundry. It can tune us into a beautiful tapestry of sensory experience, making a mundane chore something philosophical and beautiful.

Being mindful of consumption and how we move about and across this Earth is at the heart of moving towards a more sustainable ethic. We make these choices for various reasons related to the sickening of the planet and the questionable future for our children. At some point we’ve woken up and become aware of the need for change. This is being mindful within a society filled with commands to consume, replace, and throw away. This is choosing to notice and choosing to change.

Being truly mindful can be really hard. It’s difficult to shake off the sloth of the nine-to-five. It’s not easy to turn off the running dialog of what we need to do, which bills still need to be paid, how I wish I hadn’t made that careless comment to a co-worker, how I need to mulch that section of the garden….and on and on. Not only are we physiologically designed to think and plan, but we’re also highly socialized to stay busy and productive. Shutting off the internal conscience for a minute to contemplate one’s world is not a socially sanctioned activity in our Western world.

Since most of us weren’t trained in contemplative meditation or some other form of disciplined mindfulness, we’ll have to start with what we have, where we are (to quote a local hero and a former president). In this journey to lead a more sustainable life, maybe you’ve chosen to walk or bike to work. Maybe you grow vegetables and flowers to support your local diet. Maybe you make compost or hang your laundry or cook from scratch with seasonal ingredients. Maybe you pray. Maybe you write about your struggles and successes. Maybe you’re raising a child to think and live sustainably.

In all of these activities, we can consciously shift our focus. Practice turning off the inner voice that thinks linearly and in words. Practice turning on the inner witness who thinks in pictures and is attune to the surrounding world. Tune into details, colors, textures, and nuance. Create a personal meditation by sitting down in a comfortable area (my preference is outside) and contemplating the vast detail apparent in one square foot.

Yes, it takes time, and it might not be practical, but the benefits of becoming more mindful are enormous. Mindfulness meditation has been linked to improvements in stress management, mood, sleep, and overall health, while the clinical use of mindfulness based therapies has shown success with an even wider range of applications, including treatment of depression, anxiety, domestic violence, eating problems, and relationship communication. Plus, in the beautiful cycle of things, being more mindful helps us remain happier, healthier, and more aware, leading to continued inspiration to make the choices that we do and ultimately to deeper meaning and connection in the way we live.

Additional reading:

Barnes, S., Brown, K. W., Krusemark, E., Campbell, W. K., & Rogge, R. D. (2007). The role of mindfulness in romantic relationship satisfaction and responses to relationship stress. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 33, 482-500.

Carlson, L. W. & Garland, S. N. (2005). Impact of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) on sleep, mood, stress and fatigue symptoms in cancer outpatients. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 12, 278-285.

Evans, S., Ferrando, S., Findler, M., Stowell, C., Smart, C., & Haglin, D. (2008). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for generalized anxiety disorders. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 22, 716-721.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. New York: Delta Trade Publishing.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1995). Wherever You Go, There You Are. New York: Hyperion Books.
Proulx, K. (2008). Experiences of women with bulimia nervosa in a mindfulness-based eating disorder treatment group. Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 16, 52-72.
Williams, J. M. G., Teasdale, J. D., Segal, Z. V., & Kabat-Zinn, J. (2007). The mindful way through depression: Freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness. New York: Guilford Press.