on Appropriations Bill Weakens Organic Livestock Standards
(from February 21, 2003)
On February 13, 2003, Congress passed the $397 billion Omnibus appropriations bill, a massive combination of 12 spending bills filled with hundreds of special interest riders. One of these last-minute riders included in the 32-pound document allows an exemption to the requirement that organic livestock be fed 100% organic feed. The language allows farmers to feed livestock conventional feed if organic feed is more than twice as expensive and still label the meat as organic.
"We strongly oppose this exemption, which would undermine the integrity of the organic meat and egg industry and taint the rest of the organic market, which has been growing at 20% per year," said Kathy Lawrence, Executive Director of the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture.
The organic market is one of the bright prospects for family farmers in an otherwise bleak agricultural landscape. Farmers who put in the extra effort to grow organic have been rewarded with a price premium for their products in the marketplace. Organic advocates believe that the rider will serve as a disincentive for growers to produce organic grains for feed. While the current premium for organic grains is three times that of conventional, organic livestock farmers believe that high demand and competition will bring the price down if the system is not corrupted.
"Now, conventional producers who want a share of that market - without complying with the high standards consumers rightfully expect - could destroy domestic market opportunities for American producers of organic meat, eggs and grain," noted Liana Hoodes, Organic Policy Coordinator of the National Campaign. "This also poses a serious risk of losing the international market where no such exemptions are permitted."
The National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture began tracking the issue in May 2002, when Fieldale Farms, a large poultry operation headquartered in Georgia, publicly announced their intention to get an exemption at the May 2002 meeting of the National Organic Standards Board. Rep. Nathan Deal (R - Georgia) successfully introduced a last-minute provision in the 2003 federal spending bill just before it was passed. Tyson Foods, the nation's largest poultry producer has recently been testing the organic market and is opposed to the change in the feed requirement.
The implications of this behind-closed-doors maneuver would reach well beyond the farm and ranch sector by undermining consumer confidence in the USDA organic label launched a mere four months ago. Exemptions to high standards could flood the market with products not grown in compliance with the law. Consumers of organic meat and eggs would never know if animals were given feed that contained GMOs (genetically modified organisms) or synthetics not allowed in organic production.
Currently, Senator Patrick Leahy is working to repeal this exemption by generating congressional support for the repeal of Section 771 of the Omnibus Appropriations Bill to protect consumers, organic farmers and the environment. Contact your congressional delegation to let them know how you feel about this provision and whether you support Senator Leahy's effort to repeal it. The rider undermines the integrity of the organic label for meat, poultry, and dairy and the authorizing legislation, the Organic Foods Production Act. Bring out in the open the fact that there are plenty of organic livestock producers who have been meeting the feed provisions of the new national organic standards, and there is plenty of feed available. Price has never been a factor in requiring organic inputs. Provisions that make following the standards contingent on the price of inputs put farmers on an uneven playing field, according to advocates. The Organic Trade Association supplies these and number of other tips in talking to representatives about this issue at http://www.ota.com/SUAaction.htm. You can also bring the issue to your local health food store.
To read the exact language of the rider, see http://www.ota.com/FeedLanguage.htm. For more information, contact Liana Hoodes at 845-744-2304 or 914-443-5759. Also check out Beyond Pesticides' Organic Food Program Page.