Organic Industry & Consumers Celebrate USDA Reversal on Non-FOOD National OG Standards

Washington, D.C. – In an unexpected move, Anne Veneman, the Secretary of Agriculture announced today that the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) has decided to rescind directives made in April of 2004 that weakened organic standards and threw the organic industry into a tailspin.

Over the past few weeks America’s organic standards had once again come under heavy attack. First the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) announced on April 14 that they would no longer monitor or police ” organic” labels on non-food products, literally opening the door for unscrupulous companies to put bogus organic labels on products such as fish, body care products, pet foods, fertilizer, and clothing. Then on April 28 the Feds shocked everyone by announcing that pesticides, animal drugs, growth hormones, antibiotics, and tainted fishmeal would be allowed on organic farms.

All of these announcements came as a shock to the organic industry and consumers. By law, these types of sweeping regulatory changes are required to undergo a period of public comment before being enacted. Although the USDA never followed its legal duties of soliciting public comment, once the activist community had spread the word about the weakened standards, consumers, by the thousands, let their voices be heard.

In response to the new directives, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), a national consumer watchdog group, immediately launched a campaign to pressure the USDA into reversing its controversial directives. Within two days, over 5,000 petition signatures had been gathered and a landslide of faxes, emails and phone calls hit the USDA and NOP offices. According to Ronnie Cummins, Executive Director of the OCA, “Two days after we sent our first email action alert out, their were so many consumers responding to it, the USDA contacted us and told us to tell our supporters to stop calling their offices.”

While the OCA mobilized its over half million supporters, organic businesses were gearing up for a lawsuit against the USDA. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, a leading manufacturer of organic and natural body care products, released a letter to the Organic Trade Association saying that it would pay for all legal costs associated with a lawsuit against the USDA. David Bronner, President of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps said, ” Non-food products can support organic agriculture and processing just as much as organic food products do. Taking away the opportunity to certify non-food products under the NOP would have been an enormous disincentive to non-food industries to source from and support organic agriculture.”

Secretary Veneman’s announcement today effectively rescinded all four of the said National Organic Program announcements, and once again opens dialogue between federal agencies, consumers, and the organic industry in the ongoing development of organic standards for non-food products.

The four Announcements rescinded include:

  1. “Organic” Crops Raised with Pesticides?
    The USDA stated that as long as the farmer and the organic certifier don’t know the specific ingredients of the pesticides applied to the” organic” plants, the crops can be sold as “organic”. To make matters worse, it is not required by law for pesticide companies to list the ingredients on their products (it’s considered proprietary information), so the farmers rarely know what the specific ingredients are.
  2. “Organic” Dairy Cows Injected with Antibiotics and Synthetic Hormones? The USDA announced that individual cows can be treated with any kind of drug at any time, including synthetic growth hormones, but milk can only be sold from that cow 12 months after that treatment. The problem with this directive is that it opens up the door for split operation factory style dairy farms, whereby organic and non-organic dairy operations are carried out simultaneously, and hundreds if not thousands of” organic” dairy cows are kept in intensive confinement. Not only are industrial sized dairy farms bad for the environment, but they inevitably give rise to sick cows who have to be treated with drugs. Of course many of these drugs build up in the body fat and are released in the milk and meat from these animals.. If this new directive is allowed to stand, organic milk could potentially contain residues of drugs and hormones.
  3. Mercury and PCBs Allowed in “Organic” Beef?
    The USDA also stated on April 28 that non-organic fishmeal can be fed to cattle and the beef can still be sold as “organic”. Fishmeal is used as a protein supplement on conventional cattle ranches, but it frequently contains mercury, PCBs and other synthetic chemicals. Mercury and PCBs are “bioacculmulators” meaning they are concentrated and stored in the “meat” of the animal.
  4. No Longer Monitor or Police “Organic” Labels on Non-Agricultural Products.
    USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) announced on April 14 that they would no longer monitor or police “organic” labels on non-agricultural products, literally opening the door for unscrupulous companies to put bogus organic labels on products such as fish, body care products, pet foods, fertilizer, and clothing. In the case of seafood and body care products, the marketplace is already starting to become flooded with products bearing the organic label, even though the production methods (industrial fish farms) or content (“organic” shampoos with organic claims based upon added water) in many of these products violate traditional organic principles. Besides giving the green light to bogus organic labels the new USDA “scope policy” penalizes genuine organic companies that have begun sourcing, certifying, and labeling their products as organic.

The OCA is a grassroots nonprofit organization concerned with food safety, organic farming, sustainable agriculture, fair trade and genetic engineering.

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