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Industry Watchdog Calls for Independent Investigation of USDA's National Organic Program

In a letter to the USDA’s Office of Inspector General, The Cornucopia Institute has requested an independent audit of the National Organic Program (NOP), charging a multiplicity of illegal actions and inactions.  The Wisconsin-based farm policy research group alleges that the National Organic Program has failed to enforce the laws governing organic agriculture, thereby allowing multinational corporate agribusinesses to squeeze out family-scale farmers, compromising the integrity of the organic label.

If the independent Inspector General responds to Cornucopia’s request, this will not be the first audit that they have performed at the request of the watchdog group.  Past audits have been highly critical of the National Organic Program’s accreditation program overseeing organic certification.

“By failing to vigorously enforce the organic standards, USDA political appointees and NOP management have betrayed ethical family farmers and businesses, along with consumer trust,” stated Mark A. Kastel, Cornucopia’s codirector.  “The NOP has ceded control of organic rulemaking and enforcement to lobbyists from the nation’s most powerful agribusinesses.”

Cornucopia’s letter cites a number of serious enforcement violations including: allowing soil-less hydroponic/container growing, which substitutes liquid fertilizers for careful stewardship of soil; allowing documented cases of “willful” violations on factory dairies confining livestock instead of grazing; and allowing as many as 200,000 “organic” chickens to be kept in single buildings without outdoor access. [Note: “willful” was the descriptor used by the USDA investigators when adjudicating allegations of violations and fraud lodged by The Cornucopia Institute.]

“We have filed a series of lawsuits this year concerning the NOP’s abuse of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  These have forced the USDA to turn over documents that illustrate how the NOP views some giant corporate farms and the largest organic certifiers as ‘too big to fail’ even after investigators found them in ‘willful’ violation of the law,” Kastel noted.

Cornucopia’s letter to the Inspector General also accuses the USDA of undermining the carefully crafted rulemaking structure that Congress devised to insulate organic policymaking from undue influence by corporate lobbyists.  This includes undermining the congressional mandate that all non-organic and synthetic materials, approved for use in organics, must “Sunset” every five years.  Unilaterally changing the Sunset review and voting process by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) elicited a strong rebuke by one of the organic law’s original authors, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.