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Food Defenders Protest Corporate Takeover of 'Organic' Standards

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's All About Organics page, and our Save Organic Standards page.

Champions of organic food brought the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting to a halt on Tuesday as they raised their voices against what they see as the takeover of the organic standards by the corporate food industry.

The NOSB—an advisory board to the USDA  and designed to represent farmers, consumers and other advocates of organic food—is charged with overseeing organic standards and presenting recommendations to the federal government.  In recent years, however, critics charge the quality and intergrity of the national organic standards set by the NOSB have been eroded by the influence of a large agricultural interests and powerful corporations in the food industry.

In order to delay the opening of a four-day meeting in San Antonio, Texas, demonstrators stood at the front of the conference room displaying a banner which read: "Safeguard Organic Standards."

Tuesday's protest, organized by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), was held to draw attention to what the group is calling the "last straw" in the corporate-backed erosion of organic standards: a recent change to what is known as the "sunset process," which determines the synthetic ingredients that are permitted in organic foods.

As explained by Mark A. Kastel, co-director of The Cornucopia Institute, "agribusiness" and corporate food companies "had their minions at the U.S. Department of Agriculture" change the rules in order to push "gimmicky synthetics and nutraceuticals in organic food."

“Don’t change sunset!" the group chanted until police arrived. One protester, Alexis Baden-Mayer, the political director for OCA, refused to disperse and was eventually placed under arrest and carried out.

Citing a recent Consumer Reports survey which found that 7 out of 10 Americans want as few non-organic ingredients approved for organic food as possible, Katherine Paul, OCA communications director, told Common Dreams that "people don't want this stuff in their food."

However, she added, "People don't have time to follow the wonky policy decisions, so it's easy for standards to be eroded without them knowing about it."

The so-called 'sunset process' required that non-organic food materials approved by the NOSB for use in organic foods—such as sausage casings from factory-farmed animals, synthetic vitamins, and the antibiotic streptomycin—must be reviewed every five years. Unless re-approved by a two-third majority vote, the items would be dropped from the list.