I appreciate your thoughtful reply to Betty's line of inquiry (included at
the end of this message). I remain intrigued and motivated to comment on
related, yet unresolved issues.
In my work with industry and sustainable agribusinesses on issues related
to socioecological responsibility, it is critical to be able to make
distinctions in the marketplace among the extraordinary, beyond-compliant
organizations and those that elect to simply meet standards. By electing to
establish a standard, the USDA has simply established a hurdle which many
will still choose to voluntarily set higher for ethical and competitive
reasons. We need look no further than the 2,000 year old Olympics high-jump
to see that when one sets a standard, we have an inclination to excel
beyond the dreams of today's leaders.
In industry, we have ISO 14000, The Natural Step, HACCP, (Hazard Analysis
Critical Control Points), TQEM (Total Quality Environmental Management),
the Valdez/CERES/Caux principles, and several unique European standards
applied to industrial and agricultural processes and products. Rest
assured, other as yet undeveloped standards are sure to gestate in the next
millennium. A product produced under these and similar production and
product quality control systems are imbued with a "higher" quality
(auditable) than products produced under less stringent standards. Indeed,
the ability to use a scanning electron microscope, gas chromatography mass
spectrometry (GCMS), or molecular genetics suggests that we might not be
too far from advising customers of the genetic, chemical or cellular
integrity of a food product. The biomolecular techniques of cloning can be
used to audit and certify the natural integrity or uniqueness of a crop or
animal just as easily as it can be used to introduce foreign genes.
Ultimately, we will be able to reverse co-opt the "precision-farming"
technology to establish, with meter-by-meter pinpoint accuracy, that a
field's soils are not simply farmed without pesticides, but teeming with
the constituents of life that will sustain the soil. If the Organic Crop
Improvement Association (OCIA) or the European Union wish to restrict or
otherwise control the marketing, and import/export of genetic modified
entities, or originating from soil degradative production technologies, we
have the technology (and the will) to exceed today's current notion of what
constitutes "high," "higher," or "highest" quality.
Democratic governments have never had exclusive authority over high
quality, and in fact, struggle with establishing bare minimum standards to
protect public interest, whether in automobiles, aerospace, pharmaceutics
and medicine, or meat inspection. Regardless of the fact that USDA/NOP has
taken 6 years to promulgate a proposed rule, we have in fact only specified
the height of the first hurdle that lies beyond conventionally-grown
quality standards. In free-market economies, competitive pressures to
establish higher levels of quality are vital to the progressive development
of human societies and commerce. The entrepreneurial spirit of the
sustainable farmer, producer and consumer will soon identify a means by
which to enhance and exceed the quality standards that government
establishes for the organics industry. Passion, and "good science" will
justify and prevail in the ardent promulgation and litigious defense of
It is difficult to understand how the USDA and the National Organic Program
purport to restrict "certifying agents using their logos to represent
"higher" standards than those that will be established under the national
program." If a certifying agent, once certified, then subsequently invests
in "process and product quality improvement," is it the USDA's intent to
restrict the certifying agent from evolving their business toward the
future and communicating extraordinary, beyond-compliance ethics,
processes, and products in the marketplace?
My clients, several of whom are OCIA members and soon to fall under the
rubric of the USDA NOP rules, are committed to socioecological
responsibility, a rather particular ethic, belief and behavior toward the
land, ecology, and society. Think of it as Aldo Leopold meets Edward
Deming, Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, and Jesus for lunch at Chez Panisse.
As visionaries, their discussion centers on whether to invite a lawyer to
"The First Supper." Until recent, the OCIA certification has been adequate
as a means of identifying that our production processes are "certified" and
beyond what the USDA set as "Prime," or "Choice, USDA Grade A." We are
watching the Rules process very carefully and assessing whether it is time
to move the high jump bar. We can only thank the USDA for creating this
opportunity to seriously consider whether communicating our values will add
more value to our products than a "USDA-Certified Organic" label.
I hope this clears up some of the misconceptions circulating about the
possibilities that lie beyond the proposed rule. Dear, dear, Oprah . . .
Free Speech does indeed Rock!
>I'm filling in responses to your comments that reflect what the proposed
>rule actually does say, with hopes that this can clear up some of the
>USDA National Organic Program Staff
>>>> firstname.lastname@example.org@i 03/09/98 10:31am >>>
>Dear SANet friends -
>Reviewing comments on proposed fed organic regs: Aside from the Big
>bothers me most is the prohibition against private certification and
>labelling using the word organic.
>GG: There is no such prohibition in the proposed rule. You may be
>thinking of the prohibition against certifying agents using their logos to
>represent "higher" standards than those that will be established under
>the national program.
>Organic certification agencies have been at work for many years in
>states. Consumers have come to rely on their labels. In most cases,
>perhaps all, the requirements for certification are more stringent than the
>proposed fed rules.
>If these agencies and the producers they certify were to go right on
>what they have been doing, is it really possible the USDA could bring a
>against them? Presumably it would go to the US Supreme Court, get a
>publicity, and be very interesting to watch.
>GG: Currently existing certifiers will be able to become accredited and
>continue certifying. The proposed standards will be revised after public
>comment is received, and there will probably be very little difference
>between these standards and the ones now being used by most
>certifiers (which also have a few differences between them).
>In other industries (cars, non-prescription drugs, breakfast cereals)
>seem to get away with making public (advertised) allegations that their
>product is better than one or more named products from other vendors.
>the issue in organic labelling is supposedly not one of safety, how could
>our industry be singled out as requiring stricter compliance?
>GG: As in any industry, individual producers and manufacturers will
>continue to be free to make any truthful claims about their products and
>how they are produced. The proposed rule does not change this. If
>certifiers were allowed to use their seals to represent different
>standards, we would be right back where we are now, with conflicting
>claims that serve to confuse consumers. The proposed rule would also
>allow certifiers to verify any additional label claims made by any client,
>such as "grown without botanical pesticides," so long as the certifier did
>not try to represent that their seal meant "grown without botanical
>Then there is the question of copyright law, or the common law
>thereof. Since the word organic has been used for so many years by
>agencies and producers who in general agree on what the word means,
>see how the USDA can appropriate the word for its own exclusive use.
>If nothing else, seems as though the grandfather clause approach ought
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Douglas B. Johnson, Ph.D.
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Madison, WI 53703-1658
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