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Organic Consumers Association

Leahy/DeFazio Takes Vilsack to the Woodshed over Illegal USDA Organic Power Grab

For Related Articles and More Information, Please Visit OCA's All About Organics Page and our Safeguard Organic Standards Page.

On the heels of our news release yesterday (please see below), Senator Patrick Leahy and Congressman Peter DeFazio sent a strongly worded letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack criticizing the recent power grab usurping power from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

Leahy and DeFazio were prime authors of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) which created a unique public-private partnership in governing the organic industry. The creation of the NOSB was an essential part of the structure allaying fears that corporate agribusiness and regulatory bureaucrats could eventually undermine the true meaning of the organic farming movement.

Talk about violation of congressional intent! When you have two senior members of the U.S. Congress, both prime sponsors of a bill widely supported by the public, telling you that you have overstepped your regulatory authority, you had better sit up and take notice.

The USDA has clearly gone off the tracks and it is heartening that two leaders in Congress are attempting to reassert their authority by contacting the Secretary at this time.

It should be noted that the National Organic Coalition deserves recognition in securing the support of these key congressional leaders who are siding with every public interest group that has taken a position on the violations of the spirit and letter of the law governing organics.

Press Release:

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS: When the organic industry gathers in this central Texas city next week sparks are predicted to fly when farmers and consumer activists face off with government regulators who they have accused of a "power grab," significantly eroding a unique public and private partnership that Congress created in the governance of organic food and agriculture.

At issue is the unilateral reversal of 20 years of precedent in the congressionally-mandated National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) effectively deciding the working definition of "organic" as a food production system and what, if any, synthetics are safe to include in organic food. The NOSB, a 15-member panel of organic stakeholders, representing farmer, consumer, environmental, retail, scientific, and food processors, will begin its Spring 2014 meeting on April 29.

"Corporate interests, including the industry lobby group the Organic Trade Association, have been gaming the system for years with the help of the USDA," alleges Mark A. Kastel, Codirector of The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog. "What has changed recently, as a result of the NOSB refusing to go along with agribusiness in approving gimmicky synthetics and nutraceuticals in organic food, is that they have now had their minions at the USDA change the rules in the middle of the game."

In September 2013, Deputy Administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) at the USDA, Miles McEvoy, issued a controversial memorandum overturning two decades of precedents in terms of the NOSB's self-governance.

The NOSB was created by Congress to be an industry advisory group with a number of specific statutory responsibilities, something that is unusual for a federal panel of this nature. The body now faces a loss of control over the setting its own work plans, agendas and policies.

The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA), specifically states that the NOSB must approve any synthetic used in organics and must re-review these materials when they 'sunset' every five years.      


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