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Industry Groups Quit “Sustainable Agriculture” Standard Process

(Beyond Pesticides, November 9, 2010) In October, 11 groups representing chemical-intensive and biotech-based agricultural interests dropped out of the process to develop an American National Standards Institution (ANSI)-certified standard for sustainable agriculture, facilitated by the Leonardo Academy. The groups cited committee dominance “by environmental groups, certification consultants, agro-ecology and organic farming proponents” and an opposition to “modern agriculture” as their main reasons for resigning. The drop-outs include the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Frozen Food Institute, American Soybean Association, California Seed Association, CropLife America, Environmental Intelligence, Inc., Grocery Manufacturers Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council of America, and United Fresh Produce Association.

“These groups relentlessly pushed for molding the standard to validate industrial agriculture and high tech genetic manipulation,” says Jeff Moyer, Farm Director at the Rodale Institute and active member of the committee. “The model they propose confuses short-term profits for sustainability.”

Responding to the resignation, a Leonardo Academy spokesperson said it, “recognizes their perspective but disagrees with their assessment.” The Academy believes their ANSI-approved standard development process provides the balance across interest categories needed for developing a Sustainable Agriculture Standard that will be widely implemented and successful in the marketplace. They state that the balance is accomplished through these four ANSI-approved interest categories of producers, users, environmentalists and general interest. Other members of the group are listed here.

According to Mr. Moyer, “Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are probably the biggest bone of contention. But, again, it is dishonest to claim these as the only ‘modern’ techniques out there. Ecologically-minded farmers and researchers have developed things like hormone disruption, cover cropping and no-till rollers that are widely accepted and integrated on all kinds of farms. It is just biology instead of chemistry. And internationally organic agriculture has already been identified as the key to sustainability.”

As the Sustainable Agriculture Standard setting process was just beginning in 2008, Beyond Pesticides and the National Organic Coalition sent a letter to the Leonardo Academy voicing concerns over the proposed label being developed with Big Ag at the table. The later stated, “The National Organic Coalition is deeply concerned about the adverse impact that a sustainable agriculture label will have on the urgent need to increase our nation’s organic acreage and production practices. The advancement of organic systems, as an alternative to toxic agrichemical practices, is the most effective way to (i) eliminate hazardous and synthetic pesticide and fertilizer use, (ii) protect those who work in agriculture, (iii) curtail threats to the environment and wildlife, and (iv) reduce the pressures on global climate change. The growth of the organic sector is critically needed for environmental, health and labor protection. To the extent that a standard and label are created for the term sustainable, it most certainly compromises key standards that are critical to our national and global health.”

While organic food production reduces hazards from pesticides on the farm, Beyond Pesticides recognizes that a truly sustainable food system should incorporate other principles, especially farmworker justice. Farmworkers have long fought for better working conditions, wages and labor practices. Currently, the Domestic Fair Trade Association, a collaboration of organizations representing farmers, farmworkers, food system workers, retailers, manufacturers, processors, and non-governmental organizations, is in the final stage of developing a process to evaluate marketplace social justice claims for domestically produced products. Internationally, the non-profit group Equal Exchange certifies products as Fair Trade.

For more information on organics, visit Beyond Pesticides Organic Food page. For more information on organic and other “green” labels, read, “Making Sure Green Consumer Claims Are Truthful,” published in Beyond Pesticides’ quarterly magazine, Pesticides and You.


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