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Are Organic Standards in Jeopardy? Watchdogs Say Yes

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

When organic activist Alexis Baden Mayer of the Organic Consumers Association was arrested after leading a "spirited protest" against watering down organic standards last month, she wasn't at a rally on the street or in a park. She was at a meeting of the National Organic Standards Board, a 15-member advisory board with statutory authority to review what substances are allowed and prohibited in organic agriculture -- usually a relatively staid affair.

Organic foods and products are popular among consumers in the United States. It's the fastest growing sector of U.S. agriculture, with nearly $35 billion in sales as of 2012, and growing at 15-20 percent per year.

Organic foods are certified not to contain or be produced using genetically modified organisms (GMOs), pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, chemical fertilizers, or sewage sludge, and to contain as few synthetic or non-organic ingredients or treatments as possible. Organic farming methods build healthy soil, sequester carbon, and focus on humane treatment of animals.

Consumers buying organic products rely on standards to ensure this is the case.

But the growing organic market presents a temptation for business interests in the organic industry to look for ways to lower costs and gain bigger market share, including by lowering standards.

Organic pioneers and watchdog groups like the Organic Consumers Association and the Cornucopia Institute allege that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is capitulating to corporate interests and reversing 20 years of precedent by removing the ability of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to effectively decide the working definition of the organic food production system as well as what synthetic and non-organic materials are acceptable to include in organic agriculture and food on a temporary basis. Examples of non-organic materials that have been exempted include the use of antiobiotics like tetracycline on apple and pear trees; and algal and fungal oils as sources of DHA omega-3 fatty acids and ARA omega-6 fatty acids in infant formula and other foods, as The Progressive/Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has reported.