It's a shame. For only $300 each, 500 people would have been treated to seeing advertisements for 30 corporate sponsors and eaten an organic meal prepared by Chef Megan Mitchell. The chef is a contemporary cuisine expert but we have to hope she is not a contemporary woman, or she would very much not like to be in the presence of their scheduled keynote speaker, Professor Tyrone Hayes, the University of California Berkeley's famous "cock-fixated megalomaniac email addict."
Sounds wholesome, right? In reality it's $40 billion in Big Food branding.
Why won't their food protect them from coronavirus?
For years organic industry trade groups have been insisting that their food makes us healthier, a frustration for scientists and doctors who have been debunking it since George W. Bush was president. If, as they claim, their food is medicine, why won't it block this virus the way Organic Consumer's Association funds people who claim vaccines cause autism and that their alternatives work just as well?
There is a difference between being paid merchants of doubt and actual behavior, so though The Organic Center claims organic food can prevent cancer and all their allies will retweet it, the people behind the "Natural Products" movement really don't know enough about science to know if their claims about food as medicine are real or not. So they are invoking the precautionary principle about coronavirus. Just this once, they are right.
Their hypocrisy is all we need to know about their other claims also. For example, they once consistently claimed that organic farmers do not use pesticides but when forced to recant flipped to "toxic" pesticides. When the science community pointed out that toxic is in the literal definition of a pesticide, and that organic pesticides are often both more toxic and used in greater quantities than modern ones, they flipped to concern about “synthetic" pesticides.
They are wrong there also. Copper sulfate, the most popular organic pesticide, is synthetically produced in heavily industrial chemical manufacturing plants.
Organic trade groups greenwash toxic pesticide concerns with bucolic imagery of small, independent family farmers but what little organic food is not imported from other countries with no verification is overwhelming produced on massive, industrial-style operations owned by Big Food. And then it is sold by the kinds of giant conglomerates who fund Organic Trade Association. Lactalis has $20 billion in revenue, General Mills has $16 billion. Even Organic Valley is a $1.1 billion behemoth. Their brands are prominent in the sponsor list.
It's deceptive. Even worse, The Organic Center appears to be permeated by deception at every level.
The Organic Center claims to be independent, but it is run by Organic Trade Association
The dinner canceled tomorrow was officially to benefit The Organic Center, which self-identifies as an independent non-profit science research organization. A whistleblower email led me to investigate that designation and documents reveal it is actually a puppet of industry heavyweights like Lactalis and General Mills.
The IRS might want to look at bit closer at The Organic Center’s books. They were created by the for-profit industry trade group Organic Trade Association. They also recently “partnered” with the industry-funded political lobbying group “Organic Voices Action Fund,” which is led by Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Organic, a subsidiary of the world's largest dairy conglomerate, Lactalis.
Hirshberg's wife is a Trustee of The Organic Center but how much she, or the company, provides in funding for TOC is hidden.
Nothing new. Their money has always been hidden.
What is amazing is how this stayed a secret so long. Organic activists regard themselves as more ethical than most, and able to ferret out corporate influence, but they completely missed this one. Even Mother Jones never noticed, nor the New York Times.
They somehow had $552,000 in "direct public support" the moment they began despite having no employees. They don't list the source(s.) That is the definition of "dark money" funding.
Naturally, TOC and Organic Trade Association had the same phone number. That makes sense when the boss of one is the boss of the other.
No surprise, OTA also registered the domain:
Domain Name: ORGANIC-CENTER.ORG
Domain ID: D98207149-LROR
WHOIS Server: whois.pir.org
Updated Date: 2016-05-29T10:38:46Z
Creation Date: 2003-05-28T21:09:10Z
Expiration Date: 2017-05-28T21:09:10Z
Registrar: GoDaddy.com, LLC
Registrant Name: Katherine DiMatteo
Registrant Organization: Organic Trade Association
Registrant Address: PO Box 547, Greenfield, Massachusetts 01302, US
Registrant Phone: +1.4137747511
Registrant Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Katherine DiMatteo, was the Organic Trade Association’s executive director when The Organic Center was founded with no employees but $550,000 in dark money donations.
That was a long time ago, right?
Oh wait, they are still together.
They even share the same tiny suite. What an incredible coincidence.
Unless it is not a coincidence at all.
What does the IRS think about a nonprofit raising tax deductible money and then turning it over to a for-profit trade group? In the beginning, they were only paying a small amount, about $40,000, to OTA to house employees they did not have to manage money whose origin is unknown:
Now it is nearly $140,000 that TOC raises, using its charity status, to pay to OTA.
But "overhead" is not the only way OTA is exploiting non-profit donors.
The Organic Center also paid OTA Executive Director Laura Batcha $240,000 to also run TOC last year - for 20 hours per week. She got $240,000 in addition to running the trade group in the same office. They only got $198,000 in contributions and grants. The bulk of their money is nebulous "other."
How does a research non-profit like The Organic Center, housed at a trade group and with a CEO employed by the trade group, separate itself from an obvious marketing scheme like Hirshberg's lobbying efforts? Especially when his wife is on the TOC Board? Is Batcha considered “non-profit” in the morning, and for profit in the afternoon? Which parts of their press releases are lobbying, and which parts are non-profit activity? Do they have two printers or does TOC pay "rent" on one? Do they log the expenses for computers and telephones based on whether Batcha or the people sitting 20 feet from her were using them for the nonprofit or the trade group? (1)
If The Organic Center was truly independent it would not be housed inside a trade group funded by corporate giants. It would not share a CEO and pay her so much she is in the 1% while denying OTA is a "direct controlling entity" on federal documents.
And if it cared about women or science they would not have chosen Berkeley professor Tyrone Hayes to do the keynote speech at their dinner.
Professor Hayes is known for two things; in pop culture he is known for violent sexual imagery directed at women who work for companies he opposes (2), and in science he is known for getting the public needlessly worried about a weedkiller's impact on frogs. Because scientists know that when a scientist uses their position for an agenda while wrapping themselves in the flag of scientific populism, it hurts trust among the public.
On the first concern about Hayes, it is strange that the Organic Trade Association's puppet non-profit, The Organic Center, would pay someone who treats women so poorly when the organic industry and its customer base are overwhelmingly women.
Organic Trade Association has always been run by a woman, which means The Organic Center has always been run by a woman. Dr. Jessica Shade, who got her Ph.D. in integrative biology from Berkeley and does science at TOC now, signed off on this guy? What gives? There is zero chance she did not know him or about his reputation. Phyllis Schlafly would slap these people and tell them to stop enabling the patriarchy by promoting Hayes.(3)
Tyrone Hayes claims pesticides turn frogs "gay"
Aside from the optics problem they bring on themselves when it comes to having Hayes around women, OTA and TOC know the worries about his science claims. Yet most of the public don't realize that his key paper did not include the data and when EPA asked for it, he refused.
In the Wall Street Journal, I exposed how he manipulated the system in place at PNAS to get a personal friend in the National Academy of Sciences to personally "review" his paper claiming adverse effects on the laryngeal muscles of frogs; they were not developing properly, he said, which impacted androgen and sexual reproduction. He got it hand-walked to publication using an Old Boys Network system in place since the 19th century, so it went into print without legitimate peer review. After I brought national attention to it, PNAS changed that policy so it couldn't happen again.
But that was a decade later. When the paper first came out, EPA was concerned, as were we all. Frogs are an indicator species. So they convened a Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) to look into it. Because they also assumed the work had really been peer reviewed - and that someone at PNAS had seen some data - imagine their shock when PNAS conceded the reviewer Hayes picked for himself, his close friend, whose wife was dean of Hayes' department, had been satisfied with some screenshots. They had no data, and then Hayes refused to provide any.(4) EPA still forced the pesticide company he has targeted during his entire career, Syngenta, to pay for a massive, multi-million dollar frog study designed by EPA in accordance with strict Good Laboratory Standards to see if they could replicate his results.
The lab tasked with the job couldn't create any "gay" - the term Hayes used when talking about what the herbicide atrazine did - frogs. The Hayes results were bunk.
How is Tyrone Hayes an expert on organic food?
Hayes is a polarizing cultural figure, his scientific credibility is lacking, and yet for some reason The Organic Center is lauding him as the face of the organic movement this year. Why not pick Joe Mercola if credibility doesn't matter? Why not Harvey Weinstein if any behavior will be dismissed as unimportant? Where is the Hayes scholarly work on organic food? (5) He spends most of his time repeating thoroughly debunked claims from a couple of frog studies he did a decade ago that the herbicide atrazine turns frogs feminine, even homosexual.
The Organic Center is willing to believe him, and they are joined by crackpot radio talk show host Alex Jones, who cites Hayes’ work as proof that the U.S. government puts chemicals into the water supply to make American males less "masculine." To scientists at other schools Hayes often evokes a 'well, that's Berkeley' shoulder shrug. Alternative medicine guru Joe Mercola is certainly doing him no favors by claiming the atrazine study means the microbiome of wasps is being ruined.
USDA and FDA have started to signal that the bombastic marketing claims of the organic industry needs to be reined in. The IRS might also want to look at the strange tentacles OTA has around a supposed nonprofit. As for Hayes? Scientists have looked over his findings numerous times, and there is still nothing to see.
But lawyers will insist something there is regardless of what the science shows. With juries willing to believe one weedkiller, like glyphosate, can cause cancer, they will believe it about another, like atrazine. And it might be too much money to pass up. And that may be what OTA and its clients and puppet sites like The Organic Center have as the real goal.
(1) Imagine the record keeping that must take. If only Sourcewatch investigated groups that were employing members of the Democratic party. If only the New York University Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute did its supposed "investigative journalism" about this instead of handing "Visiting Fellow" appointments to everyone who attacks the scientists that their organic industry allies target.
(2) Just a sample of how women can expect to be treated if they spurn his advances. There are over 100 pages of this stuff with his name on it.
(3) It's a good thing Berkeley had all that Hayes stuff come out before the #MeToo movement. He has tenure, so it would take a decade to fire him, but it would be pretty embarrassing for a school already criticized for frequent collaborations with organic industry groups and also refusing to care about women. The heads of most of these organic organizations are easier to explain; it's old white men so maybe they are tone-deaf about women's issues unless it lines their pockets. And they are old white men who routinely collaborate with trial lawyers looking to sue, so perhaps they told The Organic Center to have Hayes speak in preparation for a new lawsuit by Korein Tillery, or whichever sue-and-settle group needs to buy a new yacht.
(4) On Feb. 16th, 2005, Anne Lindsay first admitted that Hayes refused to provide any data when she testified before the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee of the Minnesota House of Representatives: “It has been claimed that research on frogs shows that atrazine causes changes in the production of aromatase, an enzyme that is involved in the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. It has also been claimed that other scientists have shown similar effects in other species … There is no direct scientific information to assess this hypothesis.”
That meant they could not use the paper that got the SAP called in the SAP itself. EPA needs data, they don't make decisions based on showboating to get in the New York Times.
(5) At least when they were paying Chuck Benbrook he actually wrote about organic food, even if it was nonsense like how organic shoppers on surveys said strawberries "felt" better in their mouths.