Save Our Organic
Protect Public Trust in the Organic Food Label
|What You Can Do!|
Send an email or letter to your U.S. Representative, and Senators, President Obama, and Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack.
Find organic producers of products you buy on this list and ask them to join with you, or take to your local retailer.
|Age of Organics||Keeping Organic Strong|
|Background||Eating With a Conscience|
Beyond Pesticides is asking you to help defend organic standards against USDA changes that will weaken public trust in the organic food label. Organic practices follow tough standards that do not compromise the health of people and the planet. Let’s grow the organic food label as a symbol that honors this tradition.
Groups Challenge Major USDA Change to Organic Rule: On April 8, 2015 organic stakeholders have filed a lawsuit in federal court, maintaining that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) violated the federal rulemaking process when it changed established procedures for reviewing the potential hazards and need for allowed synthetic and prohibited natural substances used in producing organic food.
Groups Sue USDA for Failure to Seek Public Comment on Organic Compost Rule: The Center for Environmental Health, Beyond Pesticides, and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a federal lawsuit challenging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program’s (NOP) failure to follow the law in making a substantial rule change to the USDA organic standard. At issue is the contaminated compost guidance released by USDA, which weakens the long-standing prohibition of synthetic pesticide contaminants.
On June 2014, 20 organic farm and consumer groupsfiled a petition with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to protect the authority and permanence of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) (see press release). The petitioners objected to changes to the NOSB charter, renewed on May 8, 2014, that undermine the mandatory and continuing duties of the Board as established by Congress under theOrganic Foods Production Act(OFPA) of 1990.
The NOSB, intended to safeguard the integrity of the organic food label, was created by Congress with independent authorities that operate outside the discretion of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Petitioners maintained that in renewing the charter under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), USDA mistakenly re-categorized the NOSB as a time-limited Advisory Board subject to USDA’s discretion and a narrowing of responsibilities.
Let elected officials and companies know that they need to stand with you to protect the integrity of the organic label, the law, and the standards-setting process. Let them know that the voice and rights of the organic consumer, farmer, and all who have created this important and valuable system must be defended. Ask your elected officials to support you by telling USDA to put a moratorium on changes announced in the September 16, 2013 Federal Register (78 FR 56811, National Organic Program-Sunset Process) and in the USDA Organic Insider on March 6, 2014, and allow the public the opportunity to comment.
The next meeting of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) will be in Louisville, Kentucky on October 28 to October 30. The agenda for that meeting has been severely restricted by USDA action, but it will be an opportunity, through comments to the Federal Register at www.regulations.gov and at the meeting, to voice your support for a rigorous open process that holds USDA and its organic standards accountable to input and direction from those who produce and purchase organic food.
The public process, embodied in the Organic Foods Production Act, gives you and your representatives on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) an important public opportunity to influence decisions that determine whether synthetic ingredients are allowed to be used in organic food production. Outside inputs in organic production are secondary to natural systems that nurture nature, build soil health, and protect biodiversity as critical to organic productivity.
It was clear when the organic law was adopted in 1990, and it is clearer today, that materials or substances used in organic production should be natural, and, if any synthetic materials are used, they must be subject to the highest standards of health and environmental review –evaluating all aspects of potential harm of the materials from their production to their disposal. This is what organic consumers expect, and this is what the sustainability of our planet requires. In fact, the effort to strive to replace synthetics with natural ingredients was so strong when the law was written that it includes a “sunset” provision requiring two-thirds of the NOSB to vote to re-list allowed synthetics every five years –just to make sure that these synthetics are really essential and new practices or products have not become available to replace the allowed synthetic material. This means that diverse interest groups represented on the NOSB would have to concur that continued use of a synthetic material meets the legal standards. The process is based on the understanding that without concurrence from key groups, from growers and processors to consumers and environmentalists, the organic label may lose the public’s trust. This process has also led to what is often referred to in organic circles as “continuous improvement” –incentives in the law and standards that encourage ingenuity and creativity in finding new and better ways to produce organic food with natural practices and inputs.
When the law was passed and throughout its implementation since 1995, the NOSB and public participation have been critical to defining allowed practices and products. The policies and procedures that have been utilized have themselves been subject to public input and oversight to ensure that the decisions of the NOSB protect the public trust and the organic label supports the growth of an organic market. This public process has distinguished organic food production and its underlying standards from chemical-intensive agricultural practices, which are driven by agrichemical interests, without a robust independent assessment of the need for toxic chemicals in growing food.
The organic label and standards that support it are being threatened by USDA action that undermines several key elements of the decision making process protecting consumer trust in the label.
The role of the NOSB and public is critical to the organic brand and program. As a democratic Board that relies on farmer experience, public expectations, and science, the NOSB process plays an important role in shaping organic policy. For example, the Board has taken great strides to move the organic brand forward and maintain its integrity, including recommending that USDA set a moratorium on nanotechnology, prohibit soil-less hydroponics, keep synthetics out of infant formula, require organic hops in organic beer, take antibiotics out of organic apple and pear production, advance organic beekeeping, allow greater limitations on synthetics deemed unnecessary, take hazardous secret toxic inert ingredients out of allowed materials, and advance organic systems management practices.
Jean Richardson, emeritus professor of environmental studies and environmental law at the University of Vermont, an NOSB member in one of the consumer representative positions, told the Burlington Free Press, “We’re there to provide checks and balances. . .We’re the voice of the people.”
The facts are clear. Organic does offer us a cleaner environment, a safer and more nutritious food supply, less dependency on fossil fuels and water, a safer work environment, and increased carbon sequestration in slowing global climate change. However, this USDA takeover of the standard setting process could, if successful, reverse decades of work to build a credible, respected, and accountable set of standardsand organic food label that have gained growing public trust.
For more details on the issues, read The Age of Organics and please check out our Keeping Organic Strong page as we update it with issues that will be before the NOSB at the upcoming spring meeting. Since the fall 2013 meeting was canceled, the same issues, plus new ones, will be on the spring agenda.