I Still Say The Organic Elite Surrendered to Monsanto and GE Alfalfa

Posted on Feb 2 2011 - 3:49am by Mike Lieberman

One of the biggest news stories over the past week has been the USDA’s announcement that it’s going to be deregulating Monsanto’s genetically engineered alfalfa.

There has been a lot of confusion circulating around this news. This confusion started with Organic Consumers Association report that the “Organic Elite” of Whole Foods, Stonyfield Farms and Organic Valley decided to surrender the fight. They decided to give up and select what amounts to the lesser of the presented evils.

I’m always for listening to all sides of the story. Initially I jumped to the conclusion that these companies caved and surrendered. After reading through lots of posts in the past week and the PR statements issued by all of the parties, I still hold that same opinion.

First off, it’s nearly impossible to read the entire PR statements issued and understand what they are saying and the point. That’s the first problem. They are company issued and crafted PR statements. They are not true and genuine statements. At least they don’t seem that way to me.

Here’s an excerpt of the statement as posted on Stonyfield’s blog:

In December, to no one’s surprise, the USDA took a complete ban of GE alfalfa off the table as an option, leaving only two choices: complete deregulation or deregulation with some safeguards to protect organic farmers, which they called “co-existence.” The choice we were faced with was to walk away and wait for the legal battle in the courts or stay at the table and fight for safeguards that would attempt to protect organic farmers and consumer choice, still maintaining the option for legal battle later.

Read Stonyfield’s full statement.

This is an excerpt from statement Organic Valley’s that was posted on their Facebook page:

However, as of December, they had left only two options on the table: allowing unrestricted commercial growing, or partly restricted growing. As much as we wished a complete ban could still on the table, it wasn’t, and we knew we needed to throw our whole weight behind advocating for certain rules, so that farmers would have legal recourse in the face of contamination, and contamination could be avoided by mandating sizable buffer zones and geographical planting restrictions.

Read Organic Valley’s full statement.

Besides the fact that both of those statements are pretty similar (think their PR people spoke with each other about crisis control?), here is how I interpret these excerpts:

We didn’t have any options. We didn’t want to fight anymore. We caved and chose the lesser of the evils presented.

What happened to standing up for what you believe in and fighting? At this point, I don’t think you can continue the fight. They know that if they stand still long enough that you will cave. So they will wait you out, and you’ll cave again.

Thank you “Organic Elite” of Whole Foods, Stonyfield Farms and Organic Valley for opening up my eyes to what you truly are and stand for – just another corporation making a dollar. I can say that I will no longer be supporting any of your brands anymore.

This is just another reason why you should start to grow your own food. We don’t need these corporations controlling our food and making decisions for us. Go to your local farmers market and support your local farmers. Get to know them and ask them questions about their farming practices. Join your local food co-op or CSA. The power is truly in your hands to make a difference.

Beth Buczynski did a good write up on the Care2 blog about this situation called 3 Major Organic Brands Surrender To Monsanto’s GE Alfalfa. She received some heat and copy and pasted corporate response from some of the companies involved, and I’m sure that I will as well.

When David from The Good Human asked the Organic Elite to outright deny the Organic Consumers Association piece, they wouldn’t. They just responded with their cut and past PR statement. Sad.

In the ideal world, I hope that I’m wrong and that they did fully stand-up against Monsanto and GE alfalfa. Maybe I am misinterpreting what has gone down. I’m just stating my opinion as to how I see the situation. I vote with my dollar and will not be supporting these brands.

What are your thoughts on this whole scenario?


23 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Meemsnyc February 3, 2011 at 5:17 am -

    I’m with you, more reason to grow your own organic food!

  2. Mike Lieberman February 3, 2011 at 6:03 am -

    Like we needed any more.

  3. Kjnickell21 February 3, 2011 at 2:39 pm -

    While they did surrender, it is important to note that just because these stores sell mostly organic and mostly healthy foods you are still in charge of your money. You can eat unhealthy at somewhere like Whole Foods and you can also eat healthy from somewhere like WalMart. It is dependant on being a conscious consumer.

    I guess I didn’t really address the issue of corporation scaving in, but that aspect does make me sick, but it just brings you back to reality. Business is all about money and when we start to think it isn’t we just get a slap in the face and experience a reality check.

    The part that makes me the most upset is the lack of genetically modified labeling. We have a right to know if the food we buy comes from a genetically modified crop.

  4. Mike Lieberman February 3, 2011 at 2:55 pm -

    Absolutely. You can buy junk and processed, GMO foods anywhere. My goal is to raise consciousness of people so that they can make better informed decisions when making their purchases.

  5. LeahStoltz February 3, 2011 at 3:47 pm -

    I don’t think your misreading it. They may have started out with ideals,but $ got to them, so now they’re big business, no longer a friend to the healthy!

    the upside is WE will support farm markets more than previous, my friends/family are already discussing forming buying groups, increasing our farm market purchasing and investing in greenhouses to keep out alfafa! (funny but true!) this will all help solidify our decisions to buy and support local, bring us together more on a local level to protect and support what we have in our communities (and not pay whole foods prices! hurray! truth be told, I’ve been avoiding them anyway, it’s always top dollar in there!)

    thanks for keeping us updated on the situation!

  6. Heidikooy February 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm -

    I’m struggling with this one. I thought the same thing and then I read this on Huffpo


    The piece lacked the normal crappy, unbelievable PR bullsh#* and kinda felt like it was from the heart. Maybe I’m just desperate to hope that even the big guys have some values and realize that keeping “organic” intact is in their best interest. most organic customers are well educated and well informed. like you, they will push back.

    but i’ll continue to grow my own food, just in case. in a battle like this, it can be hard to win back trust.

  7. Mike Lieberman February 3, 2011 at 5:43 pm -

    I like that group buying idea. Keep me updated on how that goes. You should totally document and write about all of that.

  8. Mike Lieberman February 3, 2011 at 5:47 pm -

    That article and statement seems to be a well tailored and rehearsed statement that doesn’t say anything. It’s wreaks of old fashioned PR and ass covering. That might’ve worked 15 years ago, but not anymore.

    Check the comments left on the official company statements. Many questions were posed and comments left by readers that were not answered.

    If you are so genuine and care, then you would take that time. Instead of issuing generic statements.

  9. Anonymous February 3, 2011 at 5:54 pm -

    read a bit of the articles but I’m guessing Monsanto has more money than all those three combined and Monsanto’s lawyers can drag it out forever. Not the mention the lobbying power of Monsanto. Do you waste your money fighting the battle or do you try and cut a deal? It’s easy for us to stay fight for what you believe in but when a business is wasting it’s money in a winless battle what can you do? That money could be creating new jobs, protecting farmers in other ways (don’t know if they do that or not) or other proactive things.

    It’s a tough call but someone has to make it and they’ll likely be hated for it by their own supporters.

  10. Mike Lieberman February 3, 2011 at 8:52 pm -

    Yes Monsanto does have deep pockets. No doubt on that. Very easy for me to say that they should’ve fought because I’m not the one fighting.

    But if they truly believed in it, they would. They would at least outright deny the OCA story. They haven’t done anything except 1980s damage control with their PR statements.

  11. Jim Ewing February 3, 2011 at 9:50 pm -

    I think your instincts and resentment are justified, and shared among a large sector of growers and consumers; it’s inescapable that there are “big fry” and “small fry” in the “organic” column. But I think you’re misreading the full impact of what has occurred with #GMOalfalfa. The “organic elite” is “elite” for a reason: when they think “organic” they think millions of dollars; when they think farming, they think tens of thousands of acres, and not farming themselves, or pulling turnips out of the ground, like little 5- 10- 20-acre farmers, but signing contracts to hire hundreds of minimum wage workers. So, there’s a disconnect there between the backbone of organic — those who are buying the food at the grocery and unaware that Mexican “organic” fields and Wal-mart are setting the price for the American farmer, and those who must settle for peasants’ wages on their own land in America, while hoping their neighbors don’t spray too much pesticide to drift on to their tiny holdings, or, God forbit, plant GMO, and those true organic elites who sign the multimillion dollar contracts and exist within the bureaucratic Washington think tank and lobbyist milieu.
    What GMOalfalfa did, however, was expose the fissures and fire a shot across the bow of the elites — all of them, including Monsanto and the USDA — that organic, meaning consumers and growers, is a sleeping giant that they dare not arouse. Without the myth of the small organic farmer being the one selling at Walmart and Kroger, the giant “elites” (industrial agriculture with a designer label) couldn’t exist; without the giant elites spurring the demand for their products, the consumer wouldn’t even be aware there was such a thing as pesticide-free farming. And without BOTH united against GMO and FOR strict third-party labeling, small farmers wouldn’t have the market they do and growing demand. The thing is this: “organic” has a tiger by the tail: the consumer. And, if the consumer believes that food safety is compromised by GMO, then Monsanto, USDA and every other food/ag-related agency/entity will be running for the hills as markets/demand collapses. This is how small farmer/elite are in the same boat. Without a united statement of purpose (which you noted, and I also ran on my own Facebook page), organic just folds beneath the might of USDA/Monsanto. That doesn’t help anyone involved in “organic.”
    That’s my take, anyway.
    I sympathize with your feelings on the matter, but I think in this instance, hold a circular firing squad as Michael Pollan termed the GMOalfalfa imbroglio is unwise.
    Best to you!
    Jim Ewing

  12. Mike Lieberman February 3, 2011 at 10:11 pm -

    Thanks Jim. I appreciate your comments and get what you are saying about how everything is reliant and dependent upon each other. This is part of the bigger issue that we’ve become to reliant on the big guys and corporations for everything. This is the result. We have to settle for what is best for them and work under their terms.

  13. Danika Carter February 4, 2011 at 7:19 am -

    The thing is, the “elite” weren’t just representing their interests. Supposedly they were at the table to represent the organic industry as a whole. Well, it’s clear the vast majority of the industry and it’s consumers don’t agree with the actions they took. They in actuality only represented their own interests while selling out the rest of the industry and weakening the industry’s collective bargaining power. GMOs will never be banned now. There are times to compromise and there are times when you have to stand your ground, even when it means losing this battle, because doing so maintains your ability to continue to fight the war.

    I’ve heard several reports that executives from Stonyfield flew in Monsanto corporate jets and the CEOs of WFM and Stonyfield are personal friends of former Iowa governor, now USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsack, and in fact made financial contributions to Vilsack’s previous electoral campaigns. I’m still trying to get the links to this info. Have you or anyone else heard anything about this?

  14. Mike Lieberman February 4, 2011 at 2:59 pm -

    I’ve heard something similar and I believe someone actually posed that question on the official Stonyfield statement, but it wasn’t answered like the rest of the questions that were posed to them.

    They threw out their blanket PR statement and walked away. Didn’t give a shit about their customers.

    If you get the chance, read through the comment left on both of the statements referenced above. Some of them are really thought provoking.

  15. Jessica @ Delicious Obsessions February 8, 2011 at 4:08 pm -

    AMEN Brother!!!! I haven’t and won’t shop at WF again after this. Even the other day when I needed Meyer lemons (and WF is the only place I can find them), I didn’t go. I’ve also stopped purchasing Organic Valley and Stonyfield Farm products as well!

  16. Mike Lieberman February 8, 2011 at 5:34 pm -

    That’s how the difference will be made by using our good friend George Washington.

  17. Anonymous March 15, 2011 at 9:52 pm -

    So glad I ditched my Stonyfield habit and started making my own yogurt – with local milk to boot!

  18. Mike Lieberman March 16, 2011 at 2:06 am -

    That’s what’s up!

  19. Manure Tea Gardening May 25, 2011 at 3:55 pm -

    They gave up because 98% of their store products are corn based GMO and 95% of the grain fed to livestock is GMO/GE so in order for them to follow through with their legal action they (WholeFoods) would have to empty their shelves. Now you know why I make it a point to say my livestock that produce Moo Poo Tea are “grass fed” livestock. Our food chain has been polluted and bringing awareness to it by sharing companies with quality products is so important for us to do. Eat local grown fresh food, continue to promote sites like Local Harvest and share how easy it is to eat, live and grow fresh food in small spaces : )  

  20. Mike Lieberman May 25, 2011 at 4:40 pm -

    That’s interesting. Where did you get those numbers from?

  21. Seanki98 December 10, 2011 at 7:28 pm -

    Oh my goodness, this food deregulation is so crazy that even Stonyfield and Organic Valley, which I always had all my faith in, has turned there back on us, and gave up!!

  22. Mike Lieberman December 11, 2011 at 7:44 pm -


  23. Mike Lieberman February 27, 2012 at 12:21 am -

    It’s a crazy situation.

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