Daily News Archive
From December 07, 2005                                                                                                           

Groups Asked to Sign Letter to Save Organic Standards
(Beyond Pesticides, December 7, 2005)
After Arthur Harvey, a Maine organic blueberry farmer, won his January 2005 lawsuit which noted three areas of USDA organic regulations contradicted the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), the Organic Trade Association (OTA) supported an ammendement to weaken OFPA and reverse the lawsuit. Despite massive efforts by over 320,000 organic farmers, consumers, industries, and activists, the OTA Amendment was passed through a closed-door, Republican leadership-only Agriculture Appropriations Conference Committee on Friday, October 28, 2005.

Now grassroots activists are sending an open letter to the OTA and the organic industry analyzing the actions of the amendment, explaining the challenges that lay ahead for stakeholders in the organic community, and looking ahead for where organic agriculture goes from here. Groups or individuals interested in signing on to the letter may read the letter and sign-on online.

As passed, the OTA amendment allows:

  • Numerous synthetic food additives and processing aids, including over 500 food contact substances, to be used in organic foods without public review.
  • Young dairy cows to continue to be treated with antibiotics and fed genetically engineered feed prior to being converted to organic production.
  • Loopholes under which non-organic agricultural ingredients could be substituted for organic ingredients without any notification of the public based on emergency decrees.

Beyond the substance of the amendment, activists and Democratic Senators were outraged and disappointed by the process with which the ammendent was passed. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), a supporter of organic, said on the Senate floor November 2 before the full Senate passed the bill, “[B]ehind closed doors and without a single debate, the Organic Foods Production Act was amended at the behest of large food processors without the benefit of the organic community reaching a compromise. To rush provisions into the law that have not been properly vetted, that fail to close loopholes, and that do not reflect a consensus, only undermines the integrity of the National Organic Program.”

Senator Feingold (D-WI) said on the Senate floor, “The strength of the organic certification and labeling program through USDA has been the ability of organic consumers, farmers, processors, and retailers to work together to create a seal that everyone has confidence in. The Harvey court decision challenged some of the procedures in place for organic farming and food processing. This situation should have caused the organic community to again come together, openly discuss the issues, and more than likely propose consensus changes to the law to both ensure the reputation of the organic label and allow for the continued record growth of the organic market. . . [B]ackroom deals in the dead of night are not the way to go and have the potential for undermining confidence in the entire organic program.”

“The real losers today are America’s organic consumers who do not expect food labeled as ‘organic’ to contain artificial (or synthetic) ingredients,” says Dr. Urvashi Rangan, senior scientist and policy analyst at Consumers Union. USDA will have to issue new regulations to implement the new law.

Sign-on now: Read the letter to the OTA and Organic Community. To sign on, contact John Kepner at Beyond Pesticides, 202-543-5450, or sign online.