(Thanks to Rebecca for the heads up, I’ve been away from here too long)
Organic Food: Outcry Over Rule Changes that Allow More Pesticides, Hormones
by Carol Ness
A showdown is taking shape over the nation’s organic food standards, triggered by a spate of recent rule changes that some producers and activists say are setting a pattern that could eventually render the organic label meaningless.
The changes in the National Organic Program standards, made in April, expand the use of antibiotics and hormones in organic dairy cows, allow more pesticides in the organic arsenal and for the first time let organic livestock eat potentially contaminated fishmeal.
Program administrators also reversed themselves and said seafood, pet food and body care products can use “organic” on their labels without meeting any standards at all.
Signs assure customers at the Ibarra Farms stand at the San Rafael Farmers’ Market that the produce is organically grown. Chronicle photo by Kim Komenich
And in what the $11 billion organic food industry, consumer and farm groups call a dangerous precedent, program administrators made last month’s changes in three “guidances” and one “directive” without seeking public comment or consulting with their own advisers on the National Organics Standards Board.
“This is hugely terrible for the organic industry,” said Nancy Hirshberg, a vice president at Stonyfield Farm, a New Hampshire organic dairy whose yogurts are sold in the Bay Area. “It’s a real weakening of the standards. And it could have the effect of weakening consumer confidence in the organic label. “
A coalition of organic interests, including the powerful Consumers Union, says the interpretations represent major changes that could threaten the integrity of the program, which set a high standard for what products qualify as organic. And they say administrators risk undermining trust in the program by leaving the public, including its own advisory board, out of the decision- making.
Sounding a national alarm, the coalition is pressuring the U.S. Department of Agriculture to retract the changes and keep the public involved.
In both the House and Senate, letters calling on Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to withdraw the documents are gathering bipartisan support. And businesses that will lose money because of the changes are said to be considering lawsuits.
“We are drawing a line in the organic soil,” said Bob Scowcroft of the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, who helped write the organic standards.
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