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Organic Consumers Association: Activist trade group funding Biogate FOIA scandal promotes ‘fear and deception’?

Last Updated: May 11, 2016

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Organic Consumers Association


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Name
Organic Consumers Association
Founded
1998
Location (primary)
Wisconsin, USA
TYPE
NGO
STATUS
US 501c3 & 501c4
Founder(s)
Ronnie Cummins
Website
http://www.organicconsumers.org/

Organic Consumers Association (OCA) led by Ronnie Cummins is listed by the USDA as an “organic agricultural products marketing and trade resource” organization.[1] OCA is one of the most aggressive of North America’s anti-GMO activist groups. It has contributed $274.500 to start up and fund the US Right to Know organization, which is targeting scientists and science communicators with controversial Freedom of Information requests in an attempt to tie them to the biotech industry.

See Biotech Gallery: USRTK

Its original name was the “Pure Food Campaign” (in 1988) when anti-technology futurist Jeremy Rifkin at the Foundation on Economic Trends helped launch the initiative as a spin off of their “Beyond Beef” initiative with Andrew Kimbrell.

Kimbrell and Cummins spun off their campaign into a new organization called the International Center for Technology Assessment, from which the Pure Food Campaign was later spun off to become the Organic Consumers Association. One of OCA’s stated goals is to achieve 100 percent organic agriculture in the next 50 years[2] and the group tackles a range of issues which disparage conventional production (including conventional pesticide use, animal welfare and corporate control of farming), its major area of focus for the past 10-plus years has been GMOs.

HISTORY

cumminsOCA founder Ronnie Cummins got his start campaigning against animal agriculture with Andrew Kimbrell at the Foundation on Economic Trends, then later as part of the Center for Food Safety. OCA was formally recognized as a separate 501c3 entity by the IRS in 1998. They added the 501c4 campaign organization Organic Consumers Fund (OCF) in 2002 to engage in political lobbying and ballot initiative campaigns.

OCA’s claims their membership database to contain between 850,000 and 2,000,000 names and email addresses, and OCA “partners” include at least 3,000 food co-ops and organic retailers. The group cloaks its agenda in the guise of food safety, children’s health, fair trade, and environmental sustainability, but its principal aim is to promote the demand for organic retail products.

To raise money, Cummins has cast Monsanto as villain (along with other biotech companies). OCA has also been critical of large-scale organic marketers including Dean Foods and Aurora Organic Dairy. Its stated reason is that these companies have “corporatized” organic in a way that has strayed from the movement’s social justice mission. That criticism generally reflects the fact that larger organic companies’ have been reluctant to contribute money to his cause. OCA also maintains a 501c4 political lobbying arm.

OCA also funds attack NGOs, such as the U.S. Right to Know (USRTK), a group specifically established, with $47,500 in seed money from OCA, to target biotechnology researchers by using the Freedom of Information Act. Science magazine likened this tactic to Climategate, in which global warming deniers attempted to smear climate change scientists by abusing the Freedom of Information Act.

Organization

* Organic Consumers Association 501(c)3

Ronald Cummins, president and CEO, board chair
6771 South Silver Hill Drive, Finland, MN 55603
Registration office: 6010 Cliff Estate Road, Little Marais, MN 55614
Federal EIN: 41-1908341
MN State nonprofit corporation file #1R-635 filing date 5/22/1998
Latest report budget (2013): income – $3,073,719; expenditures: $2,842,517; carried over net assets at end of year: $969,111[3]
5 voting board members, claimed 19 paid employees in 2012 with a total of $720,000 paid in salaries.
Stated organization purpose: “Consumer education – to increase consumer awareness/knowledge of organic and agricultural production to promote the development/ expansion of the organic/ sustainable agriculture model.”[4]

* Organic Consumers Fund 501(c)4

Ronald Cummins, president and CEO, board chair
6771 South Silver Hill Drive, Finland, MN 55603
Federal EIN: 41-2020937
MN nonprofit corporation file #1y-475 – filing date: 10/26/2001
Latest report budget (2012): income – $1,671,937; expenditures: $1,679,573
3 voting members, no claimed employees in 2012
Stated organization purpose: “To improve public health and the environment”[5]

CAMPAIGNS / ACTIVITIES

Via OCA and their OCF lobbying arm this group engages in various grassroots campaigns attacking GMOs, pesticides and other non-organic conventional agriculture practices funded by their organic food and alternative health and supplements industry “sponsors.” Their claims range from GMOs are killing bees and butterflies to allegations that consumers can protect themselves against Mad Cow Disease by purchasing organic meat. They oppose the pasteurization of milk and promote the raw milk movement.

They promote their campaign claims via partnership with a range of commercial organic, natural product, herbal supplement and alternative health marketers including Mike Adams Natural News, Joe Mercola’s Mercola.com and via joint advocacy initiatives with groups like the Weston A. Price Foundation and Greenpeace [6] and frequently repost stories from “junk” sites that attack science journalists or science journalists that have critiqued OCA’s practices or allies. Their anti-GMO campaigns include the “GE Food Alert” partnership with Friends of the Earth, Center for Food Safety, Institute for Agriculture Trade Policy, National Environmental Trust, and various state Public Interest Research Groups[7]

OCA leadership also engages in anti-vaccine campaigns promoting claims that vaccines are dangerous and opposing measures to make vaccinating children mandatory[8] [9] and claim there are no long term benefits to vaccines.[10] Cummins calls therapeutic antibiotics in animals “a slippery slope,” writing that its use would “undermine consumer confidence in organics. It’s the same position [I have] as on human vaccines. They are dangerous, and that’s why I didn’t vaccinate my kid.”

Pure Food

Claiming, “Organic Consumers Association wants a moratorium on genetically engineered food and encouraging organic food. Stop GMO pollution” this was the first campaign of OCA launched in 2008 with the PureFood.org website set up by OCA consultant Steve Urow of Green People.[11]

Toxic Taters

OCA is one of the Spring 2013 founding members of the Toxic Taters coalition with the Pesticide Action Network North America, Food and Water Watch, Campaign for Food Justice Now, Clean Up the River Environment, Corporate Accountability International, Family Farm Defenders, the Green Party of Minnesota, Headwaters Food Sovereignty Council, Indigenous Environmental Network, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Land Stewardship Project, Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, Real Food Challenge and the White Earth Land Recovery Project.[12]

Millions Against Monsanto

OCA’s “Millions Against Monsanto” campaign initially never drew more than a few hundred supporters to any single protest, but that didn’t stop Cummins from branding it in a grandiose fashion. OCA was one of the few members of the coalition that cooked up the StarLink corn scare, and it was through this exercise that they demonstrated the effectiveness of discipline in online grassroots organizing. In 2000 when the National Organic Standards began to take shape, Cummins (armed with money from Aveda founder Horst Rechelbacher) organized thousands of organic food devotees to deluge the USDA with political ultimatums. In a later newsletter, he claimed the USDA had “given in to most of the demands of the organic community.”

Safeguard Organic Standards (SOS) Campaign

The Safeguard Organic Standards (SOS) campaign focuses on attacking large corporations investing in organic production. OCA claims these commercial players want to lower standards to claim their foods are “organic” and can market them accordingly and sell them to an unaware public. The campaign targets various companies, including Horizon and Aurora organic dairy products, such as the brand Silk (soy milk).

OCA claimed, “In late 2005, despite receiving over 350,000 letters and phone calls from OCA members and the organic community, Republican leaders in Congress attached a rider to the 2006 Agricultural Appropriations Bill to weaken the nation’s organic food standards in response to pressure from large-scale food manufacturers.”

KEY PEOPLE

  • Ronnie Cummins, president and board chair of both OCA and OCF – paid $99,590 in 2013
  • Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director[13] (arrested at 2014 USDA organic NOSB meeting)[14]
  • Rosemary Welch, OCA board treasurer, OCF general manager, board director (Ronnie Cummins spouse) – paid $53,600 in 2013 by OCA, paid $$31,145 by OCF[15]
  • Pat Kerrigan, OCA board secretary, paid 29,677 in 2013, also paid OCA Field Organizer since 2013[16]
  • Tom Taylor, OCA director
  • David Abazs, OCA director
  • Robyn Seydel, OCA director
  • Honor Schauland, OCF board secretary and content management and office management assistant[17]
  • Judy Linman, OCF treasurer 2012, secretary 2011
  • Amy Gardner, OCF treasurer 2011
  • Mary Anselment, OCA office manager[18]
  • Zack Kaldveer, OCA Assistant Media Director/ Yes on Prop 37 Right to Know Campaign[19]
  • Katherin Paul, OCA associate director (writer, fundraiser, communications manager), formerly with CommonDreams.org.[20]
  • Kaare Melby, OCA social media coordinator[21]
  • Lindsey Merkel, OCA intern[22]
  • Ben Lilliston, former OCA communications director, current vice president with Institute for Agriculture Trade Policy[23]
  • Beka Mulberg, OCA documentary production assistant for “Stop Monsanto from Poisoning Hawai’i” in partnershpi with Hawaii GMO Justice Coalition[24]

OCA’s national advisory board has included Will Allen, the Vermont farmer and author of The War on Bugs; Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians; Jay Feldman of the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides; Jim and Rebecca Goodman, the Wisconsin organic farmers who have been plaintiffs in lawsuits covering everything from GMOs to mad cow disease; Jean Halloran of the Consumers Union; Annie Hoy of the Ashland (Oregon) Community Food Store; John Kinsman of Family Farm Defenders, Diet for a Small Planet author Frances Moore Lappé; Mad Cowboy author Howard Lyman; “La Vida Locavore” blogger Jill Richardson, and the Indian GMO critic Vandana Shiva.

  • Sarah Streat, OCA writer and researcher (based in Maine)[25]
  • Ryan Zynn, OCA National Campaign Director, currently Organic & Fair Trade Coordinator at Dr Bronner’s Magic Soaps[26]
  • Elizabeth Darrow Nardi, former OCA East Coast Campaign Manager and Center for Food safety Pure Food Campaign project manager, currently operations director at New Seasons Organic Market.[27]

FUNDING SOURCES

OCA reports donations from a range of organic, alternative health and natural product marketing company sponsors, foundations and individual donors.

  • 2007 reported revenue: $1,026,092
  • 2008 reported revenue: $1,082,413
  • 2009 reported revenue: $896,684
  • 2010 reported revenue: $1,373,096
  • 2011 reported revenue: $2,009,522
  • 2012 reported revenue: $2,174,024
  • 2013 reported revenue: $3,073,719

OCF does not report income sources

  • 2010 report revenue: $0 (assets on hand 2010 $94,486)
  • 2011 reported revenue: $241,487
  • 2012 reported revenue: $1,672,299

Primary income sources: Contributions (corporate, individual, foundations) – including:

  • Eden Organic
  • Nutiva
  • Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps $100,000 in 2014
  • Joe Mercola $100,000 in 2014[28]

FUNDED SOURCES

OCA reports giving out annual grants (2012) exceeding $500,000 to other (non-OCA) individuals and organizations both inside and outside of the United States (principally noted as Mexico and Canada).

  • Hudson Bay Conmpany, Lincoln, NE is paid (2012) by OCA $450,000 and (2012) by OCF $160,512 for fundraising phone solicitations.
  • Organic Consumer Fund (2011) transfer $28,400

In 2014 OCA claimed to have donated more than $500,000 to mandatory GMO labeling legislative and ballot initiatives in WA, MD, VT, OR, and CA.[28]

Via grants, OCA supports:

  • New Organizing Institute, 1133 19th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036 (2012) $70,000in support of VT mandatory GMO labeling initiative
  • Vermont Public Interest Research and Education Fund (V-PIRG), 141 Main street, Montpelier, VT 05602 (2012) $30,000 – statewide citizen mobilization
  • Rural Vermont, 13 Barre St, Montpelier, VT 05602 (2012) $15,000 in support of VT mandatory GMO labeling initiative

Via grants, OCF supports:

  • Label Genetically Engineered Foods 501(c)4, 1814 Franklin Street, Oakland, CA 94612 (2012) $1,185,000 to promote California Ballot Initiative Prop 37 in support of mandatory labeling of GMO foods
  • Just Label It Campaign 501(c)4, 1436 U Street, Washington, DC 20009 (2012) $60,000 support for Washington State GMO labeling bill
  • Vermont Public Interest Research Group 501(c)3, 141 Main Street, Montpelier, VT 05602 (2012) $10,000 for mobilizing citizens statewide
  • Rural Vermont 501(c)3, 15 Barre Street, Montpelier, VT 05602 (2012) $10,000 in support for Vermont GMO labeling bill
  • Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont 501(c)3 (2012) $10,000 in support for Vermont GMO labeling bill

AFFILIATIONS

  • Center for Food Safety – OCA was originally a campaign of this organization
  • U.S. Right to Know – in 2014 OCA was the founding funder for this initiative.
  • Pamm Larry
  • Adam Eidinger
  • Max Goldberg, Living Maxwell

CRITICISMS

  • Discover Magazine science writer Keith Kloor says OCA uses “fear and deception to advance their cause.”[30]
  • Genetic Literacy Project contributing writer Layla Katiraee, PhD claims OCA engages in “misleading claims at best” “to play on people’s sentiments and biases” in raising money and campaigning against GMOs.[31]
  • The American Council on Science and Health calls the Organic Consumers Association “always unreliable” and criticizes them for promoting unproven natural cures for diseases like Ebola while demonizing modern medicine and vaccines.[32]
  • Forbes Magazine columnist Jon Entine says, “OCA’s misinformation campaigns have become templates for other organic and foodie groups, obscure and mainstream.”[33]

Resources

References