Congress voted yesterday to weaken the nation’s organic food standards in response to pressure from large-scale food manufacturers.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) and food processors have been pressing Congress to change the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) to allow for the use of numerous synthetic substances in products labeled “organic” and to weaken organic dairy standards.
A recent court decision ruled that the OFPA does not allow synthetic (non-natural) ingredients to be used in foods labeled “organic” and that the act must ensure a strong standard under which dairy cows are converted to organic milk production. After rejecting efforts by members of the public interest and environmental community to reach an agreement on these issues, major food processors in the organic food industry, including Smucker’s, Dean Foods, and Kraft, pushed Congress to “quietly” change the law to allow the use of such synthetic ingredients and potentially weaken the organic dairy standards.
“Congress voted last night to weaken the national organic standards that consumers count on to preserve the integrity of the organic label,” said Ronnie Cummins, National Director of the Organic Consumers Association.. “The process was profoundly undemocratic and the end result is a serious setback for the multi billion dollar alternative food and farming system that the organic community has so painstakingly built up over the past 35 years. The rider will take away the traditional role of the organic community and the National Organic Standards Board in monitoring and controling organic standards. Industry’s stealth attack has unnecessarily damaged the standards that helped organic foods become the fastest growing sector in the food industry.”
As passed, the amendment sponsored by the Organic Trade Association 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 ingredients could be substituted for organic ingredients without any notification of the public based on “emergency decrees.”
The amendment was vigorously opposed by consumer, retail and growers groups, as well as public health and environmental groups, including National Cooperative Grocers Association, National Organic Coalition and Rural Advancement Foundation International USA, Beyond Pesticides, National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, Organic Consumers Association, and Consumers Union. Consumers sent more than 300,000 letters to Congress imploring members to stand up against industry’s efforts to weaken the organic standards.
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 the 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 three counts finding:
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.
Organic Consumers Association