by: Steve Sprinkel,
What is it about the National Organic Program that has Dan Glickman so up-
On Monday and Tuesday of this week the USDA Secretary was dancing all around
the subject of defining quality food, whereas for the past half a year he and
the Clinton Administration have been rather busy putting out "Initiatives to
Nuke Chicken and Save Us From E-Coli", and proposals to " Teach Them Folks
Down Below the Rio Grande a Thing or Two About Hygiene".
The Ag Secretary wanted to sit on a fence when he said that having federal
standards for organic food production shouldn't imply that there is anything
wrong with conventionally raised food. Its just about giving consumers a
choice. He kind of ripped his pants getting off that fence though, since the
standards proposed by USDA on organics are a real embarrassment.
The short of it is that the Proposed Rule released on the 15th of December is
the means to implement the Organic Foods Production Act, a piece of
legislation passed in 1990. It sounds like it was eight years ago, but it is
really only seven. And pay you no mind that in the Act itself the Secretary
of Agriculture was to have the program up and running by October 1, 1993.
Since USDA took so long in getting this program into shape, one would expect
that the result would be impressive. Unfortunately, we have not only been
hauled all the way back to a circumstance reminiscent of 1989, when various
definitions ascribed to organically produced products caused some but not
great concern, but we have also had irradiation, transgenic modification, and
the burdensome criteria of an agency not even under USDA, the EPA, thrown onto
the wagon as it left the gate.
Prudence might indicate that the foot soldiers on the USDA Staff are not
wholly responsible for the debacle made of the National Organic Program. The
Office of Management and Budget, the FDA, Health and Human Services and other
denizens of the D.C. labyrinth have left their fingerprints at the crime
scene, as well as EPA.
But this Rule is not going to fly and here is why: by law, the Proposed Rule
must be in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the original Act of
Congress that authorized the program. The Rule is at variance with the Act
because: the National List Procedure governing materials and substances
approved for use in organic farming, handling and processing has not been
followed; the USDA National Organic Program Staff has usurped the power and
authority of the National Organic Standards Board, overruling their decisions;
and the spirit of the Act has been compromised throughout by imposing criteria
based on agronomic and "sustainable" doctrines, as well as the Environmental
Protection Agency. The Organic Foods Production Act, and organic farming
itself are a response to the failure of the EPA and other regulatory bodies
like, OSHA, FDA and FSIS to address agricultural pollution on-farm and in
manufacture of farm chemicals.
The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 is The Mouse That Roared. When USDA
finally attempted to implement the little thing, when they really started to
figure out what organic farming implies about conventional agriculture and
food safety, there was no recourse but to set a trap for it by creating an
implementation procedure that would kill it.
Two avenues remain open to organic farmers, consumers and environmentalists.
One is to call for the US House of Representatives to use the Regulatory
Flexibility Act as the tool to reject the Proposed Rule on the National
Organic Program. One result should be that an entirely new staff should be
brought on to compose a new Proposed Rule that the organic stakeholder
community can support and that will there fore be in accordance with the
Organic Foods Production Act.
The other avenue, is to address the stillborn Rule as it is written.
The Organic Farmers Marketing Association and NCAMP in a side by side
comparison of the Proposed National Organic Program Rule with the Organic
Foods Production Act of 1990 have identified the following issues.
The USDA is proposing to usurp the authority of the National Organic Standards
Board ( NOSB). The NOSB is the public part of the public/private partnership
designated in OFPA to be the gatekeeper in reviewing of the four classes of
substances that can be used on organic farms and in the processing of foods
labeled and sold as organically produced.
In doing so, USDA Staff has repudiated testimony by farmers and consumers and
ignored the official votes of the NOSB when making recommendations to the
Secretary of Agriculture on approved and prohibited substances:
Contrary to the NOSB recommendations, USDA has proposed to allow synthetic
substances, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and
environmentally deleterious cotton defoliants. And with cynical, unjustified,
and almost curious motive, USDA has devised a novel and unwarranted criteria
to accept what they define as "incidental additives", all of which contribute
to allowing illegitimate substances which were never recommended by the NOSB
to the Secretary of agriculture for use in organic production, and were
actually opposed officially. It as if the intervening seven years of work
This criteria also allows the use of synthetic substances, ingredients,
processing aids, food additives, enzymes, irradiation and genetically modified
and transgenic organisms , in processed organic foods, choosing to call them,
once again, "incidental additives", when OFPA strictly forbids the use of such
substances and materials nor for them to contact and be part of processed
organic food products.
And in great and hurtful deference to EPA, has chosen to not review the
synthetic inert ingredients used in botanical pesticides applied, as
necessary, on organic crops. Inert ingredients compose usually as much as 95%
of the formulation in a pesticide and are chemicals that are considered "non-
active", or not designed for the same use as the chemical listed as the active
ingredient on the label. Organic farmers and consumers want to know the entire
constituency of products approved for use on organic farms.
Having not found a loophole through which synthetic agriculture would be
acceptable in organic farming, USDA made their own. Or, in USDA's own words:
"No distinctions should be made between organically and non-organically
produced products in terms of quality, appearance, or safety."
Glad that they made that clear?
Regarding the raising of livestock for organic milk and dairy, eggs and meats,
USDA is proposing standards that are contrary to OFPA and inconsistent with
organic farming and handling. USDA is proposing the following, contrary to
OFPA, for organic livestock: synthetic substances, including antibiotics,
therapeutic medicines and paraciticides be allowed for all types of livestock
with normal FDA withdrawal times; that every existing dairy farm can convert
to organic farming by simply feeding organic feed for 30 days;
that synthetic substances like amino acids and reprocessed protein may be fed
to dairy, poultry and livestock labeled and sold as organically produced, and
that high- concentration confinement feeding of livestock is acceptable.
Consumers of organic products don't want to eat food produced in that fashion.
Most alarmingly, USDA proposes that livestock can be fed up to 20% non-
organic feed, which will be an avenue for feed and concentrates from GMOs to
enter the organic production stream, when it is a commonly held doctrine in
traditional organic farming that animals have to be fed completely organic
feed from birth.
All of the above eviscerates the idealism of the Organic Foods Production Act
and, if implemented, does nothing to distinguish organically produced products
from those that are produced conventionally, which of course may have been the
intent of USDA, and is a measure of how little our democracy can do in the
face of pressure brought by the seamless relationship between government and
Turning back the clock on 15 years of steady, rational improvement in the
public sector and at the state level, the USDA brazenly now wants the public
to comment on what has already been largely decided upon.
In short, the USDA's entire effort on the National Organic Program is a
disaster. The community will reply and respond, running the procedural
gauntlet according to regulatory requirements, citing dockets, providing
substantiating research documents, and civilly contradicting the faulted
language. We deserved much better than this. And though with its release the
Proposed Rule provides common ground upon which to rally supporters of quality
national and international organic standards, those who have to be the most
satisfied is the legion of anti-regulatory detractors that never wanted the
federal government to undertake this work in the first place.
Copyright 1997. Steve Sprinkel. Austin, Texas 512.328.7922. email@example.com
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