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Organic Consumers Association

GMO Vaccines in Organic

  • Public Comments to the National Organic Standards Board
    By Alexis Baden-Mayer, Esq., Political Director
    Organic Consumers Association, May 22, 2012
    Straight to the Source

TAKE ACTION: Get GMOs Out of Organic Baby Food!
TAKE ACTION: Tell Organic Baby Food Brands to Stop Using GMOs!
TAKE ACTION: Get Genetically Engineered Vaccines Out of Organic!
TAKE ACTION: Stop Factory Farm Production of "Organic" Poultry and Eggs!
The Organic Food Production Act and the regulations that implement it are very strong. Unfortunately, there's been some resistance to following the law and regulations.

And, in most instances, when large companies violate national organic standards, the response from Congress, the National Organic Program and the National Organic Standards Board, has been to change the law and regulations to match non-compliance rather than to strengthen enforcement.

The most striking example of this was in 2005 when the Organic Trade Association went to Congress to overturn a federal court ruling in favor of an organic blueberry farmer Arthur Harvey. The original version of OFPA limited the National List exemptions for prohibited substances used in handling to non-organics that were also non-synthetic. When the court in Harvey v. USDA ruled that synthetic ingredients were being illegally approved for use in organic foods, the OTA got Congress to reverse the decision legislatively.

Another more recent example is DHA/ARA. The National Organic Program admitted that these synthetics used in baby formula, baby food and baby cereal, were illegally approved for use in organic foods, but instead of enforcing the law, the NOP asked the manufacturer to petition the products for placement on the National List and the National Organic Standards Board approved them at the last meeting, even though it was clear that the NOP had not properly vetted DHA/ARA to determine whether they were produced using excluded methods of genetic engineering.  

Two more examples of the organic industry's refusal to obey the law -- and the NOP's unwillingness to enforce the law -- are open questions before you: GMO vaccines and animal welfare standards.

Under current regulations, GMO vaccines can't be used unless they are successfully petitioned for use on the National List. To date, no GMO vaccines have been petitioned, so one would assume that they're not being used in organic.

But, we know they are being used. This was first admitted to publicly by the National Organic Program staff at the May 2009 meeting of the National Organic Standards Board. Richard Matthews announced to the board that, in fact, since the beginning of the program, all vaccines had been routinely allowed in organic, without a review as to whether or not they were genetically engineered, and he recommended that, instead of the NOP enforcing the law against this violation, the NOSB should recommend a change in the law and that's what the NOSB did.

Deputy Administrator Miles McEvoy wisely rejected that recommendation, but the NOP still hasn't made any attempt to enforce current law. The NOP should have immediately collected information on which vaccines are being used in organic and prohibited those that are genetically engineered. At that point, prohibited GMO vaccines that had been used in organic could be petitioned. And we'd be back on track with current law.

Instead, the NOP seems to have left the ball in the NOSB's court. And we still have an acknowledged failure to follow and enforce the law.

This isn't right. The National Organic Standards Board should stop work on GMO vaccine recommendations until there are assurances from the NOP that they're going to stop the illegal use of GMO vaccines.

We have a similar problem on the issue of animal welfare. You all are trying hard to establish some measurable standards for animal welfare, but the irony is that while you try to improve animal welfare, the current regulations are being violated.

Current "livestock living conditions" regulations state:
  • The producer of an organic livestock operation must establish and maintain year-round livestock living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behavior of animals, including year-round access for all animals to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, clean water for drinking, and direct sunlight, suitable to the species, its stage of life, the climate, and the environment.
  • [and]
  • Continuous total confinement of any animal indoors is prohibited.
The "livestock healthcare practice standard" regulations include:
  • Provision of conditions which allow for exercise, freedom of movement, and reduction of stress appropriate to the species.
However, we know from a Cornucopia Institute report that much of the organic egg production is taking place in gigantic sheds housing tens of thousands of birds. While there are usually small portals to that provide theoretical "access" to the outdoors from these buildings, the reality is that most of the animals under these conditions are experiencing continuous total confinement and never actually make it outdoors into the sunlight.

For a great example, watch this YouTube video by a major "cage-free organic" egg producer. There isn't a single image of a bird outdoors and there are no visible exits from the pictured buildings:



Organic consumers appreciate the National Organic Standards Board's work on animal welfare standards, but it will be meaningless if current law isn't enforced.

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