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From June 23, 2005

USDA Asked To Bring Organic Food Regulations Into Compliance With 1990 Law
Court Ruling Finds Some Current Regulations Violate ‘Organic Foods Production Act’
(Beyond Pesticides, June 23, 2005) Six agriculture, retail and food safety groups petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) yesterday to update organic food labeling rules following a judge’s ruling in the case of Harvey v. Johanns. The ruling found that existing regulations concerning the use of synthetic substances in food products labeled “organic” and the type of feeding of new dairy cows violated the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990.

The six petitioners are asking USDA for a number of regulatory changes designed to ensure the long-term integrity of the “organic” label, to create an equitable and consistent standard that aids dairy farmer transition to organic, and to bring the current National Organic Program (NOP) regulations into compliance with the federal court’s January 2005 ruling.

“The Organic Foods Production Act is strong as it stands and needs to be defended against weakening through interpretation or unwarranted tinkering,” said Joseph Mendelson, legal director for Center for Food Safety. “Our petition to USDA is intended to resolve inconsistencies between the law and the organic program regulations without opening up the law to wholesale changes. Regulatory changes to the NOP should be pursued and exhausted before any attempt is made to amend the law.”

In October 2002, just days after the rules governing organic under NOP were implemented, Maine blueberry farmer Arthur Harvey filed suit against USDA claiming that USDA regulations governing foods labeled “organic” contravened several principles of the OFPA. Having initially lost on all counts, Harvey prevailed in January 2005 when the Court of Appeals ruled in his favor on the following three counts:

1. Synthetic substances are not permitted in processing of items labeled as “organic,” and only allowed in the “made with organic” labeling category.

2. Provisions allowing up to 20-percent non-organic feed in the first nine months of a dairy herd’s one-year conversion to organic production are not permitted.

3. All exemptions for the use of non-organic products “not commercially available in organic form” must be reviewed by National Organic Standards Board, and certifiers must review the operator’s attempt to source organic.

“We are calling on USDA to ensure the integrity of food products labeled organic,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Washington-based Beyond Pesticides. “As greater numbers of people flock to food produced without synthetic chemicals, it becomes ever more essential to guard our organic standards against constant and corrosive reinterpretation.”

The petition filed today by the Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, National Cooperative Grocers Association, National Organic Coalition and Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA, provides the USDA with specific corrections that will rectify the illegalities currently found in the USDA regulations.

“Both consumers and retailers whom we represent view the outcome of the Harvey lawsuit as an opportunity to strengthen the regulations within the USDA’s National Organic Program and to further differentiate organic products in the marketplace,” noted Robynn Shrader of the National Cooperative Grocers Association.

Michael Sligh, from Rural Advancement Foundation International, and founding chair of the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board concluded: “We believe that consumer and farmer rights and expectations under OFPA should be preserved and defended, and that the organic industry must be willing to adopt practices that maintain the integrity, high standards, and market viability of the organic label in the long term.”

Petitioners are asking USDA to make the proposed regulatory changes complete within 12 months of June 9, 2005.

For more information see the complete petition or the executive summary.

CONTACTS:

Center for Food Safety, Joe Mendelson, 202-547-9359
Beyond Pesticides, Jay Feldman 202-543-5450
National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, Liana Hoodes, 845-744-2304
National Cooperative Grocers Association, Robynn Shrader, 319-466-9029
National Organic Coalition, Steve Etka, 703-354-3303
and Rural Advancement Foundation International USA, Michael Sligh, 919-929-7099