Bob Scowcroft: Tales from 25 Years in the Organic Movement

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 06.08.2012

>>Male Presenter: What does organic mean anymore? Tales from the front lines of the movement
and just to give you a little bit of background on who Bob Scowcroft is is basically he's
an activist. He first joined the environmental movement to work on the Alaskan Native Claims
Settlement Act in the early 1970s and later became a national organizer on pesticide issues
for the Friends of the Earth. As organizer for the FOE, he set up table at the Natural
Food's Agent Orange because of the drift of that herbicide on nearby farms. And basically
from there, um, Barney Brickman and 2 other organizers from the California certified organic
farmers came and paid him a visit to his table and introduced Scowcroft to the organi, organic
farming movement and since then he became the first professional environmentalist to
attend and present at the ecological farming conference. Then held at a muddy church camp
in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
>>Presenter 2: Hi everyone, I'm Liv and I'm a chef. And I'm just delighted to have my
friend Bob here. I met him at the EcoFarmConference. So, 15 years after I interviewed him as a
reporter when I was in Chicago, so thank you for coming.
>>Bob Scowcroft: You're welcome.
>>Presenter 2: Bob is quite a story teller and raconteur so I'm, we're just gonna be
pretend it's not summer and it's winter. We've got our feet pulled up to the fire and I'm
just gonna ask a few questions and I think he'll just go. So, that was a long time ago.
>>Bob Scowcroft: Yes, that video was shot it 1989. He noted that organic was about 1
percent of the food economy. We are 23 years later and thousands of articles and reporters
and chefs, organic's now 4 percent of the economy. When I joined CCOF I was the first
full time employee and director, there were 178 farmers in the program. When I left there
were 780 farmers in the program. During the 5 years that I was at CCOF, actually I'm just
gonna step back and say, to give you a sense of the history of organic, it started to be
written about in the 20s and 30s, both in Japan and in the UK. Rodale really brought
it to the US in 1947, first publication of Organic Gardening. But, Mokichi Okada in Japan
and Sir Albert Howard and Lady Balfour, Lady Balfour is the key, you know, royalty is what
it is; she was interested about the soils so she started a soil association in the 20s
over there in the UK. So this, to this day we hear that it's a fad. Well, we're getting
on almost 100 years, 80-90 years; I think the fad part a really mute point now. But
the first regulation was written in Oregon in 1974. The first law, actual law, was in
California in 1978; it was a 2 page law and Ag so disliked the word organic that the only
way they could get it passed was to make into the health and nutrition program. I'm not
sure if you knew that. And California health and safety code was where the first organic
food act was parked and it had no enforcement, it was 2 pages long but it did define the
simplistic no synthetic devotion to natural crop rotation; the very basics of what organic
had started out. So by '89 with Alar, which was, to this day they call it the Alar scare.
I very strongly point out it was not a scare, it was carcinogenic and it was taken off the
market 6 months after CBS' 60 Minutes did the story on it. But it took Meryl Streep
to bring attention to it. Environmentalists had been working on it for a decade but it
was Meryl Streep in the, on a couple of TV talk shows, the power of talk shows, that
brought it to attention. So, CCOF rewrote the California law for enforcement and then
a year later, thanks to Senator Leahy, 7 people got together and said we've written the California
law, we have friends in Oregon, we have friends in New England, a couple in Ohio, let's write
a national law. Little did we know what we were getting into. But, for the power of individual
and the power of very small group, I think this is a particularly critical story to tell.
That to this day, 7 to 10 people dedicated and with a vision can get together and can
make global change. Never forget that. It's happened here. It happens in a lot of places.
>>Presenter 2: So that was 1 percent of the market. We're now at 4 percent?
>>Bob Scowcroft: Little over 4, 4.2, 4.3
>>Presenter 2: So I'm gonna ask the question from the other side. Why so slow? Why so,
what's, what have been the impediments?
>>Bob Scowcroft: Um, uh, absolute to this day, resistance from the agro industrial food
system and it's an integrated system, crop insurance; you can't get organic crop insurance
to organic research; you can't get that to scale. Now there's 4 supermarkets and 3 box
stores that represent something like 70, 7 buyers in United States purchase between 70
and 80 percent of all our food. 7 buyers.
>>male #1: All food or organic?
>>Bob Scowcroft: All food total comes through 7 buyers. Now, it's like, in California there
are 2,200 organic farms, 2 of them, and I said earlier in a meeting I'm gonna try not
to use brand names, but 2 of them gross a billion dollars. And they sell into those
7. So economies of scale, very difficult for organic to integrate into, um, research, organic
pest management. The system of Ag research is really product based. Actually, there was
a law, this is a kind of funny, well, depends on your Ag sense of humor, Birch Bayh and
Bob Dole wrote a law in the 80s called the" Bayh Dole Act"
[Laughter] >>Bob Scowcroft: It's not, everyone's gonna
have pineapples but the "Bayh Dole Act" reformatted the entire research system to be product based.
That you could be a company and give money into an Ag research program and dedicate a
research question you have and you could profit, i.e. patent, off that product that came out
with academia. So, organic is information based. You can't really patent information.
You can't, it's public domain activity. So, finding out when to release the ladybugs or
when to apply, when to harvest a cover crop, which cover crop works with which soil? That
was a historic Ag research program from our land grant system, from the late 1890s to
the 1940s, that's what land grants did. And then in, after the agricultural chemicals
became very popular in the '70s, by the '80s the system, we wanted to cut funding for Government
waste and to Ag, we were wasting Government money to get information. So, instead, we
wanted, by this act, to privatize our Ag research system. So imagine how you're gonna get an
organic crop rotation system in place. I'd say that's very expensive, that's been one
of the main challenges is breaking that, and the other part is also economy of scale, competitive
price organic can be is very expensive in many parts of the country, you can't get it
year round in many parts of the country. So the first person with berries or some of the
other fruits and vegetables sell it for a lot of money. That's something called the
capitalist system where they make a very healthy profit. And, somehow, this is supposed to
be, this is supposed to be a negative to organic. Well, it's, uh, buyer and seller working it
out. Now, things have changed a little bit. After CCOF, 2 farmers and I decided, talk
about tilting against windmills, we decided that we were gonna change the grant making
program so we founded the Organic Farming Research Foundation so that we could make
grants but our grants were based on, uh, agreeing, upon receipt of money to not patent any information
that it was all, 100 percent, in the public domain and that we would fund ideas as well
as actual projects. And OFRF, I retired a year and a half ago, I was the executive director
for 20 years, the average lifespan of a, professional lifespan of an E.D. is 3 to 5 years. So I
was there 20 years and we made over 350 grants and many of those recipients are now professors
and are now, finally, over 20 universities have organic research programs. So, look how
long it took us to get there.
>>Presenter 2: What was the most difficult part about getting the federal law written?
>>Bob Scowcroft: Um, well, it's the opposition of the agricultural industry; some of you
may have a little bit of awareness that the Farm Bill is front and center this summer.
It's a really big deal. Well, in 1990 was an earlier Farm Bill, the House Agriculture
Committee refused to hold any hearings on organic. I was actually in a meeting in the
mid '80s in the USDA that a senior agency official came in and broke up the meeting
'cause a communist sympathizer was there; that was me.
[Laughter] >>Bob Scowcroft: Supporting organic family
farmers and I had to leave the building. That's the intensity of the passion at that period
of time. But, 1990, 5 years later, the House Ag Committee refused to hold hearings so we
actually had one congressman from Oregon, two actually with Sam Farr, but really, Peter
Defazio carried the bill on the floor of the house, no hearings, no public testimony, no
public comment. Senator Cranston and Senator Leahy carried it in the Senate. One hearing,
one time and on the house it was voted 198 to 189 and we won the amendment on the floor
of the House. And we just pushed every grass roots button we had and the law was 16 pages
long and it required a National Organic Standards Board which was the only advisory board that
had the right to stop a bad action and to recommend a good action. There are 29 advisory
boards in the USDA, only one has statutory power and that's the National Organic Standards
Board. The administration at the time, and I have to say including into the Clinton administration,
never empowered the actual drafting of the regulations. They were due 18 months after
the passage of the law; we got it 10 years. It took them 10 years to post the rules and
they were terrible. They suggested you could use genetic engineering; you could put sewage
sludge on organic farms as long as –, a number of pasture regulations were terrible.
They made a mistake, and actually this is kind of a cool little computer story, it was
the first rule ever published on the internet, it was the USDA decided, they had this little
corner thing, organic, no big deal and they would publish it on the internet and ask for
public testimony, the largest testimony they'd ever received was animal welfare issues around
production of veal which is a pretty lousy way to, well we'll leave that for another
topic, but that had gotten 35,000 letters. So they published the organic rules thinking
they'd get maybe a couple of thousand, we generated 325,000 responses. Working assets,
now called CREDO Phone Company, the largest single, it donated, it generated 35,000 comments
through their phone subscriber base, into the rules. That was such a tsunami, ten times
the comments they'd ever received, that they had to rewrite the rules and then the press,
I think we we're probably in contact, Liv and I and many others, the press really caught
wind of this major embarrassment and made major organic hay about it and they went back
and had to rewrite them again. And, finally, in 2002, 580 pages of every single thing you
can and can't do around organic was published and approved with two exceptions. One was
pasture, they didn't quite know how to figure out what organic pasture and organic meat
and dairy was and is. They just published the final rule there in 2010, 20 years later,
and the other was the interface between recombinant DNA, genetically engineered products and organic.
All they said was you can't use it and we felt there was a lot of protocol behind pollution
from that and some other issues. So, those of you that wanna get into organic, you gotta
start when you're 20 or 30 cause you're gonna take it from 4 percent to 50 percent you gotta
be young, I think, well maybe I'll be on a roll for a couple more years.
>>Presenter 2: Really? Can we reach 50 percent? That would be astonishing.
>>Bob Scowcroft: You know, I think the infrastructure as immature as it is, has the capacity to
do that understanding that organic transition requires, one of the key threads is 3 years
from the last application of a prohibited material. So, if something happened and we
had to go organic, I believe essentially the body of knowledge is there in almost every
crop and commodity to farm it organically but the land isn't. And we don't want sod
busted or marginal land or wets lands taken out and farmed organically. We want the deep
soil of the heartland farmed that way but it's gonna take years, so I have a fear, it's
been my experience that organic in many cases has grown due to sensational pesticide stories
for the most part, horrific poisonings, drift, discovery or final proof of carcinogenic chemicals
and people throw up their hands, "That's it, I'm gonna buy organic. I don't care." So if
we have some other more food safety, food issue, stories coming down the pike the push
for organic with that same peaks and valleys that we had during Alar where apples went
for 70 dollars a box that were 6 or 8 dollars a box, the size of that package before. I
will say, going a little bit out on a limb here, my sense is that relative to food issues
and the things that I follow, that some of the next frightening data that's just starting
to be peer reviewed, when I say frightening it's not somebody standing up on a screen
and ruining a dinner party or in a public speech, I'm talking about peer review science
coming out of Academia, the abuse of antibiotics and chemicals in our meat production should
gray the hair on the back of everyone's head. And the stories are just beginning to come
out. Just recently, uh, and I can provide the link later on if you wish, urine tract
infections, there's dinner party topic for ya
[Laughter] >>Bob Scowcroft: had been tied to a certain
antibiotic overused in poultry production. They know this, medical schools have now proven
this and, yet, can we get that antibiotic out of poultry? They don't even, they want
more research, let's take, you know, the data's not really in yet. You know science; we need
more studies in the future. Far as I'm concerned that data's in and what I've read about some
of the chemicals, antibiotics in hog production, I only eat, I mean, I know the meat I eat
almost personally, not the chicken itself [Laughter]
>>Bob Scowcroft: but the producer that made it. How do we transition, I guess is the,
to get the 50 percent, you need a government objective, you need a massive investment in
research and, of course, you need the consumer that's gonna be paying those higher prices,
in some cases, some seasons, to support it.
>>Presenter 2: We're close to 50 percent with the Google culinary purchasing team with organic
>>Bob Scowcroft: Awesome, awesome.
>>Presenter 2: we're not quite there but, and our meats and poultry are antibiotic and
steroid free and, but what's the positive argument about organics? Yes we want to avoid
this and this but in our culture where we're concerned about nutrition and optimizing your
life and things like that, is there a benefit to eating organic that is, say, something
about nutrient density?
>>Bob Scowcroft: That's the, uh, that's the Pandora's Box and I'm happy to open it.
>>Presenter 2: Go ahead. [Laughter]
>>Bob Scowcroft: But I'm gonna ask you to hold it for just about 60 seconds until, I
came to organic really trying to ban agent orange and my concerns about pesticides and
herbicides. People come to organic for different reasons, have different paths to, uh, eventually
say, "You know, I wanna be positive, I wanna be solutions based." Organic is a solution
that we should all support. Moving the needle, to this day, is still antibiotics and chemicals
and pesticides. The question that arises ever more frequently that I wanna now address is,
is it more nutritious? And it's a very difficult question to address. I was very lucky in my
run, I got to know, uh, Mothers and Others for Livable Planet which Wendy Gordon and
Meryl Streep founded, got to know them. At that time, both, for about a year pretty well
and Wendy Gordon decided she wanted to say that organic was more nutritious, I said,
"Wait a minute." So she got a new professor on staff in the early '90s, a woman named
Doctor Marion Nestle. Who is now quite well known in her books and I would encourage you
to log in or get on her blog, she's a brilliant writer, and says that, in a matter that someone
like me who's not a scientist, can understand. And also a woman named Joan Gussow. So we
had several years of meetings in New York whenever I would come through about addressing
the question of is organic more nutritious? And the variables seem almost insurmountable
upon, to accumulate those in a manner that you can say yes or no, and let me just throw
a few out for you to think about. First of all, America has something called the standard
diet and in a way that's linked to how much pesticides you can have as residues on certain--
[]. It used to be based on a 180 pound male which became a real issue when Doctor Philip
Landrigan wrote a book called "Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children" where
he came out of his work saying, "Kids ate applesauce, squash, bananas and you're saying
men eat 6 bananas a year. Children eat the same amount as men every week. This should
be, the standard diet should be based on pesticides that kids get, they're the most vulnerable."
Then he went on to speculate about, "Well, what micronutrients are we getting? Are they
getting enough? How do we manage that when our kids are newborns and starting out with
just four or five, when they move from mother's milk or formula and start getting foods."
And I don't believe, I've been on some panels with him in the past and I don't believe he
ever was able to come to an academic understanding of how you would measure those kinds of nutrients.
So the standard diet is an issue, pesticide background contamination is an issue, of course
the soil it's grown in is an issue, the way the seeds have been bred. At lunch we talked
just a little bit, our brilliant academic community has, um, not, through classic breeding
practices, actually, very little recombinant DNA, although they've begun to embrace that
as well, have bred our seeds for our products now for ease of harvest, uh, mechanical tornado
harvesting. That, the tomato has to be, all of them in a thousand acres, has to be about
the right size with thicker skin so the machine can pick it. Actually in the last few days
they discovered that in the process of growing these tomatoes, they also need to look a certain
color cause we tend to buy really orange ones so they bred in color, and they also need
to take up more water because we all buy everything by the pound. So we're actually buying the
water that we subsidize to irrigate it back and, uh, broccoli or tomato that's taken up
a little bit more water. Brilliant marketing, academic, Bayh Dole act, companies want this.
Now you come along and they discovered that the, uh, in breeding it, literally in the
last few days the sciences have come out that they discovered that in this quest for the
harvested tomato, they had lost the gene for taste.
[Laughter] >>Bob Scowcroft: And that they had just, heck,
where is it? And they had just discovered where it was and now they're gonna breed that
gene into the tomato for taste as well. I started yelling at the computer screen when
I read that story. It's like, just go out and get heirloom tomatoes, brothers and sisters,
what are you doing trying to get another silver bullet to shoot another gene into an agro
industrial system that is largely energy based. We can't ship those tomatoes around the world
that much longer or import them that much longer with spikes on energy. So I think it's
a bit meandering here but soil fertility, biological activity in the soil breaks down
the micronutrients slower that heirloom seeds pick up faster. Then it has to be harvested
for immediate deliveries cause we all know that starts to break down once it's been harvested.
Can organic do that? Yes, it's clearly doing it. There are a number of studies out there
doing that but they're citrus specific or, uh, heirloom variety tomato specific in New
England in the summer or strawberry specific. Thus, on a podium, I can't yet, in all honesty,
say that organic is more nutritious.
>>Presenter 2: But, as soon as I hear you say, "They're breeding the plants to do, for
more water uptake," I'm hearing nutrient, uh, nutrient scarcity, the density is now
diluted, nutrient dilution. Is that, that must be true.
>>Bob Scowcroft: Um, certainly in the soils, you know, as the soils break down as it's
all about breeding something will take up N, nitrogen N, faster and more efficiently.
You have a route that's looking for that fertilizer. Sorry to put a personality on it but it's
just not gonna take time to break down the nodule on a cover crop that's left that little
piece nitrogen node on its root to break down over the winter. It's not gonna look for it.
It's gonna go right to where the N is in concentration, that's the fertilizer we put down a couple
weeks ago. I brought with me and sent over to you which you can make available. I did
look up, uh, what is it, yeah, here's the June 29th issue of the journal Science, um,
talked about finding the gene that makes tomato taste better. So being published in Science
is fantastic, it's very important point of view but, and the fact that these publications
are covering these kind of stories is also very new. Science and Nature is a two premier
publications, they never really covered organic until the, actually one of the first organic
research stories they ran in Science was in the mid 90s, actually one of the early OFRF
grants was Doctor John Reganold who compared organic apples, biodynamic apples and conventional
apples for, uh, price, taste, nutrient density and, um, I think shelf life. And he found
that 4 out of the 5 cases, organic exceeded that in an academic protocol and biodynamic
won the other one. And OFRF made those, made those grants. I'm really proud of that grant.
>>Presenter 2: You have some other historical, uh, artifacts you brought. You wanna tell
us about that?
>>Bob Scowcroft: Some other goodies. Sure, Uh,
[Pause] >>Bob Scowcroft: 19, no wait, 2009 the Journal
of HortScience did a story on the sorry state of American fruits and veggies. Basically
what they found, again, I can give the link later on, this was a case of such a quest
for color, taste, harvest ability that conventional produce tested out for, I think, 7 to 10 micronutrients,
40 percent lower than organic. So it wasn't, depends on which side of the coin I guess,
it wasn't that organic is necessarily less nutritious, it was that an organic fully four
season biological system was maintaining, the, um, delicate balance of nutrients in
their fruits and vegetables as compared to conventional which had really largely abandoned,
um, their breeding program for more of the commercial marketplace.
[Pause] >>Bob Scowcroft: Here's a couple
>>Presenter 2: Life magazine?
>>Bob Scowcroft: Life, okay, this is kind of an ageist here
[Laughter] >>Bob Scowcroft: 1970, Life magazine, as far
as I know this is the first cover story about organic. Written in 1970, organic comes of
age and, you know, blonde, young actress with her organic. Those, uh, you don't necessarily
have to chuckle out loud but those of you who remember TV and ads at the time, I checked
out she had one acting gig. She was a model on TV for Noxzema shaving cream where she
purred, "Take it off, take it all off." And some guy would shave his, um, and she made
so much money that she bought an organic food store
[Laughter] >>Bob Scowcroft: and left acting to be an
organic activist. [Laughter]
>>Bob Scowcroft: Uh, and, uh, it goes on to show that you see Santa Cruz Farm and Garden
and talk about how organic has come of age since the '50s. And I think it's really a
phenomenal read. Since I'm here at Google and I'd, actually I got the desired response
at lunch when I showed it around, there's also two ads in here, one for this breathtaking
new technological development, at 200 dollars per, it's something called a Polaroid camera.
So, when I've showed it in certain places people like, "Yeah, organic, that's cool,
right? '70s, but look at that Polaroid camera for 200 dollars.
[Laughter] >>Bob Scowcroft: breathlessly the newest deal
out there. But it's important, again, really for what they talked about USC and crop rotation
and whole grains and nutrition and what USC, I said USC, UCSC, produced. I also wanted
to show
>>Presenter 2: Well, that's a story.
>>Bob Scowcroft: two other things here, maybe three I'm, I try to bring something to get
a chuckle. You never know your audience entirely so don't feel like you have to go overboard
on my last piece here. [Laughter]
>>Bob Scowcroft: Or, actually, I'll show the book, too. In 1979, the last year of the Carter
administration, a couple people said organic's kind of working. And he tasks a group of scientists
and farmers to come together and write a task force report on organic and make some recommendations.
If this is real, this is growing, what should we do to expand organic farming? And they
wrote this report, they made 20 some odd recommendations and it was published, um, literally the last
few weeks of the Carter administration, an organic program coordinator was hired to then
implement these recommendations and he was on staff when the Reagan administration came
in. Whatever your politics are, John Block was the Secretary of Ag at the time and under
the 'reduce Government and eliminate waste', he laid off 500 people as one of his first
day green slip, pink slipped 500 people at the USDA. Big press, great, immediately reducing,
well, they rehired 498 of them as consultants. [Laughter]
>>Bob Scowcroft: Cause they needed this staff but they kept 2 off permanently. Now, that
was Doctor Youngberg and the poor woman in the secretary pool who happened to be assigned
to his desk to help him, she was laid off as well. But then they went further, they
ordered all the copies destroyed, and the, uh, the plates that printed this also be destroyed.
And I happened to be in Garth's office the day that order came down and he was distraught,
I mean, this is kind of his life's work. So, um, seeing myself as a kind of a movie character
and feeling adventurous, uh, I took 20 of these and wrapped them up in brown paper thinking
that, and smuggled them out of USDA passed security. And I made a much more of a, I mean,
really I just walked out the door with a bag. [Laughter]
>>Bob Scowcroft: But it had, I thought I had the only copies of this document at that time.
One reporter, this is the power of the press, James Risser from the Des Moine Register,
wrote a story about this and, uh, the uproar was so strong that, though Garth was never
allowed back in the USDA, this became the most requested report in the '80s during the
Reagan administration. Number one, tens and tens of thousands, that's good news.
>>Presenter 2: And how much of this has been implemented?
>>Bob Scowcroft: Only 5 of the recommendations have been fully implemented. Now, I have to
say, um, Deputy Director of the USDA is Doctor Kathleen Merrigan, she's a former OFRF board
member, she's number two, she's created and fully implemented, now, all of these recommendations
are now in the implementation track. She has a fantastic website called 'Know Your Farmer,
Know Your Food'. I almost thought about dialing that in. They had an event today at the White
House; she emailed me this morning saying, "If you want to link into it, it's about women
farmers. It's how to find local, how to find how your USDA dollars, farmer's market, hoop
houses. It's a really, really cool program that has a compass and they just released
2.0 this morning. You might think organic is, uh, that the classic liberal, conservative
divide is around organic and it generally has an image of being a left or a liberal,
uh, phenomenon. But you'd probably, or maybe not, maybe I'm wrong but, um, our general
assessment is there are more republican organic farmers than there is democrat, if you will.
There's a route in organic of conserve, as in conservatism that is particularly out in
the heartland that these farmers have taken, the parents, the grandparents and now the
children have taken very seriously. And, uh, one of the more famous or infamous depending
upon your point of view, it was a gentleman named Paul Weyrich, passed away a couple years
ago, he founded the Free Congress Foundation, he wrote a news and commentary called the
Conservative Voice, for many years he was sort of the conservative voice to what Norquist
is to 'no taxes'. He was, what he said was conservatism when and he wrote an amazing
column on February 2006, the next conservatism and conservation where he declared the future
of conservatism was organic family farms and protecting our soil and managing our water
and buying locally. It's an amazing document. If we wrote it, another bit of propaganda,
but time and time again, I accept all interviews. I've been interviewed by, uh, Liv, many times
New York Times AP. I've also been on the 700 Club, um, [laughter] you name it, part of
my motto is to complete and total transparency. I'll ask, answer any question for anybody
at anytime. And I love bringing this, uh, bring this out. His last one is, "Think locally,
act locally." This was the Conservative Voice in 2006 and maybe more than any document we
should have this on all of us whenever debates break out or the more public presentations.
What's to be against about, Paul Weyrich's vision of a family farm, the Jeffersonian,
steel of our backbones from buying and keeping our monies and food and our soil where it
belongs. It's very important. And then, though I have others here, two others and then we'll
go to Q and A, wanna do that?
>>Presenter 2: Sure. >>Bob Scowcroft: In the theme of taking any
interview at any time, let's see is this dated, yeah; in 2003 I got a call from a reporter
from the National Enquirer. How many people know the National Enquirer?
[Laughter] >>Bob Scowcroft: I see some hands went like
this. Nobody looked around so you're okay. [Laughter]
>>Bob Scowcroft: So the National Enquirer calls and she says she's a reporter and I'm
sure this is a joke, one of my buddies, I mean, this is the kind of, this is what we
do for fun, is pretend, internally. [Laughter]
>>Bob Scowcroft: And she was doing a story, "Are organic foods worth the cost?" And, you
know, I just wanted to say is this Joanne? Is this, come on, you know, ha ha. I did it
once or twice and she got really irritated and said, "I'm in New York, I'm on a deadline,
I report for the National Enquirer and I'm doing this story."
[Laughter] >>Bob Scowcroft: "Mister Scowcroft, do you
wanna talk or not?" So I played it straight and she did a long interview. She called others
and low and behold, she wrote an incredibly straight story. All, as any reporter would
write. She went out, checked farmer's markets, she asked about the rule and the 95 percent,
the 100 percent, some other questions, not all of which went in there and they had photos
of a farmer's market and we ended up talking for about an hour and a half. And, you know,
I'm not a subscriber and I didn't quite wanna buy one every week at the checkout stand for
other reasons. So, um, being, uh, having a sense of humor I had a contest, internal to
the staff and others, that we wanted to see who would discover it first cause we have
a lot of eyes and ears out there and we'd give them some kind of prize. And it took
about 6 weeks before someone outside of the staff said, "Well, my Grandmother's uncle
was at the barber shop." It was clear they had bought it themselves
[Laughter] >>Bob Scowcroft: but they had about 5 degrees
of separation to the fact that they had gotten the article and read it and low and behold
I was quoted in the National Enquirer. This is the range of interest that we have out,
out there and these kinds of stories. And I thought it was, um, rather phenomenal that
she wanted to do this. I should add at the end of the phone call, we went into pesticides
and antibiotics, at the end of the phone call, you know, "Thank you, Mr. Scowcroft" and she
said, "By the way, um, I really hate you" and it just came from such a, I said, "What,
excuse me? Did I?" She said, "Well, no it's not you, it's that I had take out and it's
been delivered while I've been talking to you and now I don't think I can eat it."
[Laughter] >>Bob Scowcroft: And I thought, "Okay, one
person at a time." You know, one person at a time.
>>Presenter 2: Um, I'll begin with the first question, this is, there are people who are
saying organic is now so mainstream, I mean, Doctor Oz is talking about eating organic,
Oprah talks about eating organic. Walgreens carries it, there are enough disruptive farmers
in California who are saying organics is so diluted, so it's so mainstream now, it's not
really organic anymore. Is it, is it?
>>Bob Scowcroft: Uh, absolutely. It's the law of the land. If it's not organic, it's
a felony. So you have to meet those regulations. Now, some of those perspectives come from
a quest for purity.
>>Presenter 2: Yes.
>>Bob Scowcroft: I should back up a little bit; organic is still a voluntary term. Nobody's
making anyone in this room farm that way, garden that way, thus, eat that way. If you
choose to buy an organically labeled product, you have the force of law behind you and,
actually, in the last few years as they begun to enforce it, several, actually several people
have now gone to jail for violations of multimillion dollar violations of the certificates and
the rules. Purity is, uh, why we set up the national organic standards board. This is
a board that's set up to assess when a material can be allowed or not be allowed. Whether
a practice should be approved or not approved. And it's a passionate debate and some of the
materials that have been allowed generate intense passion and when the vote comes down
against it, somebody raised their hand and said, "Well, that's it. Industrial farming's
taken over. It's not organic anymore."
>>Presenter 2: I hear that a lot.
>>Bob Scowcroft: That's untrue. Nevertheless, some of the advances and their ability to
become part of the rule are very slow. So I, again, as we talked over lunch, uh, my
feeling is that knowing if you have the time and energy, knowing your farmer, visiting
her farm, his operation, is always, uh, one of the best ways to go about it. Particularly
if it's in your neighborhood. I'm, uh, a flexitarian when it comes to the long push of organic.
We need all the farmers we can get to farm. We hope to provide the tools to farm organically,
we hope the body of science and knowledge and the passion to continue continuous improvement,
to take root. Some are less patient than others to get there. So, but you're right to know
that organic is embedded in the law. Transparency is a critical part of that. So if you wanna
tease that out some more that's fine.
>>Presenter 2: Well, I would but I think there's some questions. Yeah, you wanna stand up?
Yeah, I think we can hear you in the room. Go ahead.
>>male #2: You have to repeat the questions.
>>Presenter 2: I have to repeat, okay.
>>female #1: My question is are there countries that are doing it better than us and what
lessons we can learn from those countries?
>>Presenter 2: Who does organic better than we do?
>>Bob Scowcroft: Um, many. And almost universally because their Governments have endorsed it,
have invested in it and created action plans to grow it. There are a number of European
countries that have goals, some of which have already been met to have 20 percent of their
food economy be certified organic. Sweden, um, Switzerland, a National University in
Switzerland is an organic university. One of the people in that quick video, Brian,
Doctor Brian Baker, has been hired out of a university in New York, he's moved to Geneva
to be the translator of all the European research out of the, this is the university project
that translates organic research from around the world into English. We can't even do that
here. And Brian is now doing it out of, uh, F-I-B-L, which is the acronym worldwide. Just,
what a concept. Where is our academic institutions on almost a simple information gathering?
>>Presenter 2: You were saying at lunch, what's the top university in this country for organics?
>>Bob Scowcroft: Now a number have organic engagement programs but in my personal opinion,
and since this is on film I'll be hearing it from many of them that I didn't name, but
Washington State University is where it's at. WSU is phenomenal. They have organic undergraduate
programs, they have organic online programs, they have organic masters and PhD programs.
They just received a 5 million dollar grant to expand, uh, their organic farm. Not only
in its own ability to be state of the art organic research but they have integrated
the organic, they actually call it the smart farm, cause the architectural school's gotten
really excited. The computer, there's an amazing amount of computer applications, apps, for
organic farming just being developed. Water hydrology, the water use, soil fertility and
the business school, all now are integrated into the WSU smart farm program. And I found
it ironic that UC Davis with a thousand professors in Ag, I'm sorry, Post-Docs, assistant professors,
Ag professors nearby that WSU comes to Santa Cruz and San Francisco to raise money for
their organic farm in Washington when Davis has five or six organic researchers out of
that thousand.
>>Presenter 2: Yes?
>>male #3: Hi, um, I find that the terminology when it comes to animal friendly agriculture
practices and, you know, and organic animal products gets a little confusing. Like, for
me, it's really important to have eggs for like chicken that are able to, like, graze
a pasture and stuff like that. And, you know, now when you go to the farmer's markets they
have farms that advertise sort of pastured eggs or whatever. But I'm, I mean, I find
that I don't really know exactly what that means and it's not really breaking the rule,
right, I mean, so I guess I'm wondering whether there is any progress being made about putting
some teeth, some regulatory teeth behind sort of animal agriculture or terminology and things
like that?
>>Presenter 2: Regulations and terminology around pastured eggs etcetera.
>>Bob Scowcroft: You know, the success of the organic label, it is the only competitive
conventional egg and it is extremely different, profoundly different. It's now trying to be
modeled by many other ecolabels. The flip side of that is that many other ecolabels
really don't wanna go through 20 years of legislative action, regulatory formatting
or framework, I call it sort of the natural regulatory spaghetti thrown against the wall.
I'm happy, animal free pasture, no drugs, sometimes sprayed, I mean, it's just everything
is out there and, uh, particularly in animal welfare issues right now. It's really, to
the extent possible, getting a tour, getting to a location, getting to a farmer or rancher
or talking to them in the farmer's markets with, uh, again, I don't know how close you
follow this but, uh, the Humane Society had a revolutionary breakthrough 50 years coming,
has made an agreement with the Ag producers association to have these larger cages, um,
we go from a foot to 5 feet. They can, chickens can turn around now. This is the grand bargain
that we've made and it's not in the Farm Bill. The powers that be struck it out and the powers
that be are the pork producers. "My God, if they let chickens turn around then hogs will
have to get out of their crates." If you really wanna be clinically depressed on animal production
look at a conventional hog operation.
>>male #3: Yeah, you know, I actually do that. You know, I do, I've been to like 2 particular
farms in this area that I know exactly how they treat their chickens and those are the
only farms that I'll buy from. But I mean, I think, for, in order for this sort of to
drop, you know, drive sort of greater adoption of these animal-friendly practices.
>>Bob Scowcroft: Well, many of the animal welfare groups are trying but right now the
heads of Ag committees won't even hold hearings. They won't even, I mean, the congressman from
Oklahoma who's an extremely conservative individual and remarkably pro agro industrial systems
approach, passed the Farm Bill, can't even get Boehner to put it on the floor of the
House. That's the stranglehold that the industrial farming system right now has. If it goes on
before the house then there's, um, what many people are calling a Monsanto amendment which
waives all the regulations around genetic engineering and requires the USDA to approve
anything within one year of application without health and safety testing. So one amendment
got in of 70 or 80, I think, in the Farm Bill so it's just too, that's where the consumer
power, that's particularly impressed with an entity like Google and the operation you
have here 'cause you are, in fact, leveraging forces by orders of magnitude as a group more
than you would ever guess. You have no, I mean, maybe you kind of hear it or maybe it's
kind of sort of the road now, the norm. You have no idea what you're buying power can
do [Sneezing in audience ]
>>Bob Scowcroft: as far as leveraging change. Well, there's questions everywhere.
>>male #4: Can you talk a little bit more about the cost dynamic? You've mentioned it
a few times that there's, there's a, there's economies of scale yet to capture. What are
the specifics there and how do you balance that against the other comments you've made
around knowing your farmer and how do you know your farmers and keep your produce local
when things start to grow and stuff like that.
>>Bob Scowcroft: Uh, the complexity of the marketplace, you can get to a certain scale
and go to 7 farmer's markets and you and maybe 1 or 2 workers harvest that and bring it direct
to market. You're paying the farmer pretty much the entire cost for that. But that's
still some fruits and vegetables, once you start getting into cold storage, there's a
little bit more as a middle person there. Once you get into larger trucks or hydro coolers
or ice machines that broccoli has to go on ice just about in the field, a little bit
more cost there. Now you start to look at the scale as I have an ice machine maybe I
should grow a lot more broccoli and hire 5 workers and sell it into a regional chain.
Cost might go down at a certain point but now you wanna grow something difficult, trial
and error, you've gotta grow it out several years to see whether you can grow okra or,
and we're just talking fruits and vegetables, um, if you're inter, I'm sorry, just vegetables,
tree fruit, do I wanna put 5 years of apple varieties when, into my farm when apples might
go out of vogue and raspberries. Anyone that's been down in the Watsonville, Salinas area
knows that, I mean, even when I moved there in the '80s, apple trees were everywhere,
there's 1 or 2 apple growers left because raspberries, raspberries, raspberries, raspberries.
So now, apple growers, they have harvesters that come through, they have an intense season,
they can put it into storage for 3 or 4 months. Completely different infrastructure for that
land and they have equipment, cost up front, loans, crop insurance, certain size,HACCP,
food safety issues now regulatory over, overlays that you have to follow. So, scaling up and
commodity specific and your business plan and your marketing initiatives, all play a
role in that dynamic and then when you get into meat products, for example, there was
a fantastic hog farmer, almost have their name, just wait, in Watsonville and we all
went, "Finally, we can eat pulled pork. We can eat bacon from the farmer's market." Those
of us that eat meat and that farmer couldn't make it, they ended up losing their money
for one reason, their only slaughter facility was down in Los Angeles area and it was so
large that it couldn't even take their 10 hogs every 2 weeks make, they couldn't cleanup,
never mind that it was natural or organic. So, California is in desperate need of what's
called a mobile slaughter unit that can actually go to the farm and slaughter specific to the
five, you know, name your meat products and some of the dairy issues and some of the cheese
making issues. So it becomes very complex very quickly relative to what stream of commerce
you wanna go into. One of the more recent responses to that are certain aggregators
or co-ops where a number of veg growers are going together and starting to aggregate and
using one dock and one cooling system or a grower that had a cooling system is beginning
to see another stream of income cooling other very small grower's product. It might be one
pallet, it might be 3 pallets, drive up literally with your pickup truck with 20 flats of strawberries
and they'll cool it for a couple of days so then you can move it out when it's ready.
I don't know if that's helpful but it's just the complexities
>>male #4: Yeah, it just seems like there's a huge need for, like you said, shared infrastructure
in the middle tier of the producer and buyer and then a lot of these organic people have
it incredibly difficult, like I read the Omnivore's Dilemma and they talk about how organic first
started it was not just about revolutionizing how food was produced but also how it was
distributed and what people ate. And it seems like, at least sitting in the sort of Shangri
La of San Francisco, the piece of that that's still has a lot of development to do is the
distribution piece in the middle cause these small farms have such a challenge getting
their food to market.
>>Bob Scowcroft: I would actually say it has been revolutionized even since Michael wrote
that but it is in certain regional locations. There's an amazing co-op up in Eugene in Portland
called Organically Grown. It was founded by organic farmers. It now represents several
hundred organic farmers. It's an ESOP, they have shares, they have bonus plans, employee
stock, 140 of the 200 employees own this company now and they have built the entire infrastructure
by and for. They go to restaurants, wholesalers, they may serve some of the entities up there,
people at lunch seemed to know. But what we're still, this is still really essentially outside
those 7 buyers I brought up before. The 4 supermarkets and the 3 box stores.
>>male #4: [inaudible]
>>Bob Scowcroft: Well, my feeling is that to get it to 50 percent, those 7 buyers bring
it to an economic strata that we can't reach, commodities of which can work in that format
for a period of time in the future and my quip to the Nation, the Nation did a story
about it and I got in a little bit of trouble saying, "Well, the good news is those pesticides
are not being used on 100 thousand acres, because of scale it won't go into that, but
our response was like [indistinct], now we need to set up a peach tasting stand at the
entrance to those box stores and let them know what a real peach just harvested tastes
like. Then those people can come to the farmer's market. If you go to some of the intense markets
in Oakland, you'll see the organic tables have longer lines than the conventional. As
a matter of fact, very important survey done for years if not decades by the Grower magazine,
fresh produce the packer, most conventional publication out there has consistently shown
that the lower the economic strata, the greater the desire for organic products. Completely
countered the image that you see some of these NGOS that are opposing organic want, it's
an elite food. I mean, we certainly have not done a good job, I can think of any number
of video examples of the most amazing superstar that only eats organic that reinforces the
elite image but the fact of the matter is that when given the possibility and the opportunity
that all economic strategists specifically the lower ones which use organic consistently
shown in the conventional publication.
>>male #5: [Indistinct]
>>Bob Scowcroft: I love that question.
>>male #5: So I was wondering if you could talk to the science?
>>Bob Scowcroft: Sure. Well, there's a couple of things. First of all, where are, where
does it say the US to feed the world? We certainly feed corn and soy beans to feed stations around
the world but, um first, secondly we already produce something like 1.4, um, 1.4, one and
half times more food than the earth consumes currently. The waste, war and storage and
transportation eliminate a phenomenal amount of that food. And, uh, my passion is to declare
that we should be feeding the world information rather than somehow assuming that we are industrializing
and exploiting our soil to move, uh, feed products in competition to Brazil or Russia
and China to meet operations elsewhere.
>>male #5: So from a food system perspective if you wanted to take an international [indistinct]
>>Bob Scowcroft: Absolutely, the FAO has published a number of papers recently showing, that's
an entity of the UN and I can't pull the name up right now.
>>Presenter 2: Food and Agriculture Organization.
>>Bob Scowcroft: And there's a rocket, no not rocket, well there's one person that's
particularly been overseeing a lot of these peer reviewed research reports showing now
that organic fields are better than conventional and a number of the African nations that,
particularly women, owned and run, small family farms are producing a significantly better
yield and crop rotation systems and local cover crop, compost, green manure crops and
that if we are serious about, really serious about feeding the world we should be cooperatively
developing research stations and information stations not genetically engineered products
that require fertilizer and chemicals. Just exporting the problems that were showing up,
having shown up here.
>>Presenter 2: Last question.
>>male #6: So, one issue you haven't mentioned at all, I'm curious to hear your thoughts
on the community garden. I have the good fortune of being married to woman who has a passion
for it. We have all manner of [indistinct] and peppers [indistinct] elsewhere. Does this
have any impact on scale or is just a hobby for --
>>Presenter 2: Can gardening impact, can mini farming as John Jeavons calls it, impact our
food supply?
>>Bob Scowcroft: I think it could. Some very intriguing initial papers are starting to
come out about community gardens, actual just yields and nutrient delivery among some of
these gardens but by far, the more important component of gardening is the actual individual
act of growing your own food and understanding what it takes and particularly in community
gardens working with others building a community around a food and breaking bread and meal
culture. We don't really have that in the US. If you go to Italy or some of these other,
I came home the other day and there was a bag of plums on my front doorstep and nobody
even put a note on it and they were incredible and I knew they came from my street or somewhere
and then just yesterday somebody shouted out, you know, "I got plums up the wazoo and I
just went to every house and dropped them. I hope they were great!" And it was a moving,
it was a moment. It was great. I'm happy to eat these plums in my cereal every morning.
I have a very special Bartlett pear tree in my backyard and I've been doing the same thing,
dropping them off cause they all have to go pretty much come off in the next 2 weeks.
So I think those acts of both just the personal, it came from my garden, the salad or the fruit
tree. I really want a Meyer lemon tree; I killed my last lemon plant. I was working
too hard. I think the garden movement is very important and the last thing I'd say is the
gardeners by and large are gonna save us all because they're growing out heirloom seeds
and exchanging seeds and saving seeds and trading seeds where the new organic seed movement
and seed alliance and seed savers are coming from, by and large, gardeners. If it wasn't
for the gardeners that have done this the last 30 years.
>>Presenter 2: It's something to do with, to take of suburban sprawl is to start growing
food on it, right?
>>Bob Scowcroft: Now, Detroit has a food plan, it's very contrev, someone wants to industrialize
that but basically Detroit has an actual plan and it's beginning to take some of these blocks
and turn it back to farming and the larger community agricultural garden stations to
feed the community around it. And that is a mayor initiative supported by Whole Foods
and a number of, you know, philanthropic entities. I should say one more thing, just to close,
can I do that?
>>Presenter 2: Sure, yes, please, your book. Well, the book you're in.
>>Bob Scowcroft: Yeah, it's not mine. One of the things that I'm at the very early stages,
and I'm saying this for the record, I guess people are gonna have to start holding me
to it but I'm gonna write a book, the people's history of organic . We've got 35 years of
these little, I brought other goodies like in Russian, in St. Petersburg Russia, a sale
of organic cranberries. So if you're really short here in the US you can go over to St.
Petersburg, buy organic cranberries. But, I'm 61, many of us have been working on this
for 30, 40 years, are retiring or disengaging entirely, I'm not I'm just doing things in
a different way now. But I think capturing our history is really important so I got an
idea years ago, I was looking for revolutionary librarians, which a particular audience though
that's was really funny, revolutionary librarians. But, actually, 2 came up to me afterwards
and said, "We are revolutionary librarians." And I said, "Well, what I want you to do is
an oral history of the 20 people that started organic in California" Well, a few have passed
away, others are in their 70s, some of us are in a late 50s, 60s. We need to capture
this. And low and behold they ended up with 52 oral histories at UC Santa Cruz's McHenry
Library, all downloadable mp3's you can listen ad nauseum for hours at us talking away and
then it got, within the library system they were so excited about at UC Press, said let's
make a book out of it. And they tasked the librarians to find the best and put it in
order and get about 15, 18 pages of each one in print and this just came out, it's called
"Cultivating a Movement" and it's, I found it, I'm learning things about my friends that
I didn't know. Jim Cochran the great strawberry grower and UFW supporter started the daycare,
as an assistant in a daycare program. But we should all, in almost every menu, be capturing
our oral history now. And so I'm going around the country to other places and I'm a trustee
on a foundation so I'm actually, I think, working with other foundations. I think there's
some funding now to, cause this is mostly all local. What happened in New England, what
happened in Oklahoma, what happened in Wisconsin and Washington is, in a way, an indigenous
to the place. But, the students job will be to study this and to find the common themes.
But, "Cultivating a Movement" is a pretty cool read and you will recognize some of the
farmers in there if you go take a look on the web about it. It can be purchased through
UCSC, I didn't bring it, Irene is really the hero that did this book. I have a chapter
in here, as well. Amazon, I guess, has it too.
>>Presenter 2: Well, we're gonna look for your, your memoirs.
>>Bob Scowcroft: Well, yeah, the people's history of organic has a couple of PG-13 stories
about it too. Some great scandals and the gathering of the tribe of organic activists
both young and old is at Asilomar Conference Center every January. It's 32 years running,
I've been to all but 3 and they're from 80 years old to 8. It's a great conference .And,
of course, that's where we reconnected last January that led to me coming here today.
>>Presenter 2: Thank you so much.
>>Bob Scowcroft: Thank you very much for coming. [Applause]