I want to thank George Siemon and his colleagues at Organic Valley for arranging this event and for inviting all of us who have worked on organic issues here over the last 13 years or more. I don’t feel we have been any kind of unsung heroes, as George suggests. We got involved, and have kept at it, because we feel organic agriculture is the agricultural alternative this country needs.
I had the privilege of being the unofficial secretariat for D.C.-based public interest organizations working on organic issues for eight years beginning in 1989. This included chairing or co-chairing three different organic working groups set up to coordinate our joint efforts. As a result, I have a thick folder of lists and other information from this period.
I have other lists and information gathered since from participation in Organic Watch and the Organic Committee of the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture. This includes lists of organic working group members, D.C.-based representatives who have attended organic briefings and other meetings, and those who have signed on to letters to Congress and U.S.D.A.
The list of D.C.-based “unsung heroes” is a long one. I went through this material over the weekend and identified 81 D.C.-based public interest organization representatives who have participated over the last 13 years. Many of them are here tonight. They represented 54 different mostly national organizations.
This total does not include everyone who appeared at NOSB public input sessions, made visits to Congressional offices, or filed statements commenting on proposed rules. I am sure the complete list for the entire 13-year period would have the names of at least 100 D.C.-based organization representatives working here on behalf of organic principles and integrity.
The organizational list includes 14 national environmental organizations, eight national consumer organizations, and three national animal protection organizations. Others on the list include farm, faith-based, cooperative, sustainable agriculture, and farm worker organizations.
It is interesting that several of these organizations, including Mothers and Others and Public Voice, no longer exist. Who would have guessed in 1990 that the implementation process would out-last some of the important groups that helped shape this law?
Many of these 54 organizations also were leaders in mobilizing nationwide opposition to the flawed and totally unacceptable rule proposed in 1997 and in generating the 275,000 comments that forced U.S.D.A. to withdraw the rule, rewrite it, and submit it a second time for public review and comment.
There is a tremendous turnover in the staffs of D.C.-based public interest organizations. I found in reviewing the files that only five of us from the original 27-member organic working group set up in 1989 are still here, still associated with the same organizations, and still involved. They are Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides, Tim Warman of American Farmland Trust, Kathy Ozer of the Family Farm Coalition, and Ferd Hoefner of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
I want to pay special tribute to them and to one other who has left the D.C. scene and could not be here tonight. That is Melanie Adcock of the Humane Society. She became active in 1990 and helped enormously in coordinating the activities of these groups as well as serving on the steering committees of the Campaign’s organic committee and of Organic Watch and providing national leadership in the development of organic livestock standards.
We have worked closely from our base here over the years with organic farmers and their organizations. I want to thank them for welcoming us as partners in this important work. The D.C.-based organizations have been loyal supporters of organic farmers and of their goal of developing an organic system based on organic principles and integrity. Much of our work has focused on protecting proposed standards from those attempting to undermine or weaken them. We also have supported the NOSB, an official entity set up to represent the entire organic community in dealing with U.S.D.A.
We have frequently been characterized as “activists” and “dissidents” rather than as partners in the 13-year effort to develop an organic system that includes strong standards and a verification mechanism that consumers can trust. We have never considered ourselves “unsung heroes” but appreciate having our work acknowledged in this special event. It is an honor to have our work recognized this way by an organic farmer cooperative.
There is much to celebrate. However this important work is not complete and many of us still have serious concerns about how this law has been implemented, how the whole process has been politicized, and about the National Organic Program overall. I know I speak for many of my D.C. colleagues in saying we will not rest until we have a national program, either at U.S.D.A. or in our own hands, that is true to the values of the farmers and consumers who developed organic agriculture, that is not a mirror image of agribusiness, and that protects organic principles and integrity.
The October 21 implementation date is seen as a time of closure for many. I do not share this view, as our work is not finished. I, for one, intend to keep at it until the job is done and done right.