In a stunning turnaround, the U.S. Congress on Friday, April 11, 2003, repealed Section 771 of the Omnibus Appropriations Act, restoring the definition of organic feed used in the production of organically labeled chickens. The action took place as Congress passed its supplemental appropriations bill. The repeal comes less than two months after the House of Representatives first passed, and then the Senate agreed to, a provision weakening the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. In its $397 billion Omnibus Appropriations Act, passed in February, Congress attached a last-minute rider allowing an exemption to the requirement that organic livestock be fed 100% organic feed. The language allowed farmers to feed livestock conventional feed if organic feed is more than twice as expensive and still label the meat as organic.
On February 26, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Representatives Sam Farr (D-CA) and Ron Kind (D-WI) introduced the Organic Restoration Act (S. 457 and H.R. 955) to repeal the attack on organic. Secretary of Agriculture, Ann M. Veneman, after remaining silent during the shenanigans on Capitol Hill, publicly supported the repeal effort, say, "I am concerned that the language inserted in the Omnibus Appropriations Act could weaken the National Organic Program. It is important to maintain a strong organic program that ensures the integrity of the organic label placed on consumer products."
In the Senate, 71 Senators (25 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and 1 Independent), and in the House, 105 Representatives (25 Republicans, 79 Democrats and 1 Independent), co-sponsored legislation.
Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, said, "This represents an incredible effort on the part of consumers, farmers and the organic industry to protect the integrity of the organic label. Consumers feel strongly about the value of organic and do not want to see the meaning of it eroded. We will keep the public informed as USDA continues to implement the organic law."
Congressional action came amid a successful effort by Senators Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to attach a provision that opens the door to possible organic designation of wild caught fish. The Senators want organic labeling of Alaska's Pacific salmon catch. Senator Stevens was the author of an earlier mandate to USDA to conduct public discussion sessions and expert review on the possibility of creating standards for labeling wild aquatic animals as organic. "The answer then was no, the public didn't want wild fish labeled as organic, and experts advised against it," said Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association.