Dr. Bronner’s is less than thrilled with the Organic Trade Association (OTA). The company that makes soap and organic body care products resigned from the OTA earlier this week. Dr. Bronner's says the OTA drifted away from its opposition to Senate Bill 764, what critics labeled the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act, and lent support to it. President Barack Obama signed the legislation into law this summer.
The new legislation creates mandatory, national labeling standards for genetically modified (GMO) foods and preempts state GMO labeling laws. In 2014, Vermont became the first state to pass a mandatory GMO labeling law. Connecticut and Maine passed similar laws. As Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, wrote in a blog post last month: “With a few strokes of his pen, Obama scratched out the laws of Vermont, Connecticut and Maine that required the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods.”
The legislation not only nullifies state GMO food labeling laws, but also GMO seed labeling laws in Vermont and Virginia that allow farmers to “choose what seeds they wanted to buy and plant,” Kimbrell wrote. It also nullifies Alaska’s GMO fish labeling law. And as it is written, the new legislation “might not even apply to ingredients derived from GMO soybeans and GMO sugar beets,” according to Just Label It.
Back in August, Dr. Bronner's CEO David Bronner penned a piece for the Huffington Post. He described the GMO labeling law as “a gift to the pesticide and food industries who make and sell GMOs.” Bronner pointed out that instead of “clear on-pack labeling to disclose the presence of GMOs,” companies are allowed to use either QR codes or 1-800 numbers. A survey by the Mellman Group found that only 16 percent of shoppers said they have ever scanned a QR code to obtain information about a food product.
Bronner wrote that he and other movement leaders see the legislation as “made possible in large part” by the OTA’s betrayal of the movement for mandatory GMO labeling. And Bronner is not the only one who sees it that way. The Organic Consumers Association wrote an open letter to members of the OTA urging them to cancel their membership and called it the “Organic Traitors Association.” The letter described the U.S. Senate as struggling to pass the DARK Act “until the OTA got involved.”
In a July press release, the OTA sang the praises of the legislation, describing it as requiring “disclosure of GMO ingredients, but also includes important provisions that are excellent for organic farmers and food makers – and for the millions of consumers who choose organic every day.” Interestingly, the OTA mentioned that “without the citizen-led efforts in Vermont and other states, this compromise bill would never have come to fruition.” But the OTA failed to mention that the laws in Vermont and other states are preempted by the legislation they chose to support.
Rather than support the OTA, Dr. Bronner’s will support organic agriculture by lending its name to Rodale’s new Organic Farmers Association and the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements. “We are particularly thrilled to support Rodale's new Organic Farmers Association and the expansion of their regional teaching farms across the country, as well as participate in the North American General Assembly of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) at Expo East," David Bronner said in a statement. "We encourage all true organic companies, whether they choose to remain a part of the OTA or not, to support and participate in both.”
Hopefully, Dr. Bronner's withdrawal from the OTA will prompt other companies to do the same and send a message to the organization that its stakeholders feel change is necessary.
Image credit: Dr. Bronner's