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More Background on Sneak Attack in U.S. Senate on Organic Standards

From: National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture Organic Committee

Yesterday, -- Monday, September 19 -- an amendment to [Organic Food Production Act] OFPA was floated as a possible rider on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Bill, which is currently being debated. This opening of OFPA through the appropriations process is being orchestrated by the Organic Trade Association and other major Industry food processors. Their goal is to return to what they believe is a pre-Harvey “Status Quo”.

YOUR ATTENTION AND ACTION IS NEEDED IMMEDIATELY

Since this has happened very quickly and since this NCSA Organic Committee has not seen all of the ongoing work related to this, the NCSA Organic Steering Committee will attempt to provide an analysis of what has lead us here, for you to understand what your choices are and what is at stake. For more information see websites of Center for Food Safety http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org, Organic Consumers Association http://www.organicconsumers.org, Consumers Union http://www.Eco-Labels.org, Beyond Pesticides http://www.beyondpesticides.org and the Organic Trade Association http://www.ota.com

Following the Harvey decision in January 2005 members of the NCSA Steering Committee, public interest, farm, and environmental community sought to begin a dialogue with the industry regarding possible concerns, outcomes, and solutions to the new landscape following “Harvey”. for more detail see: www.sustainableagriculture.net/Organic.php

It is an overriding principle of the Organic Committee and our partners that opening the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) is dangerous, and should only be attempted as a last resort, in the light of day, and through a transparent process. The Organic Committee has agreed on that position for years.

In light of that, and understanding that OTA and some industry members were very committed to a law change and that it was critical to them to get the fixes they needed as fast as possible, members of Working Group including some members the NCSA Organic Steering Committee, RAFI, CFS, National Organic Coalition, Beyond Pesticides, Consumers Union, National Cooperative Grocers Association, and several others invited OTA and the industry to come to the table to work out possible middle ground solutions. These solutions could actually strengthen OFPA while addressing some of the critical impacts of the Harvey decision. Meetings were held in February, March, April and May. The first meetings included members of OTA and OTA’s lobbyist on this topic. Unfortunately, the industry claimed immediately that a law change was the only way to fix the problems, and refused to look at other approaches. Those in power at OTA also stopped coming to scheduled meetings to discuss the issue (although some OTA leaders on the NCSA Organic Committee continued to dialogue for awhile) Failing that for the moment, the Working Group then decided that a concrete petition for rule-making was needed to get specific feedback from the community and industry about the limits of a regulatory solution. Given that the Department is required under the Harvey decision to engage in Rulemaking, it seemed important to help that process along. If industry and community members were united with a regulatory proposal, USDA might be inclined to listen.

The Working Group also asked industry for the text of what their law change would look like, so it too could gather specific reactions before a law change went to the Hill. To this day, OTA has never been forthcoming with the OFPA-change language – the Working Group received the text from Congressional aides, days before it was attempted to be included in the Appropriations Bill.

In May, proposed regulatory language in a draft Petition for Rulemaking was put out to the NCSA Organic Committee, and OTA. Many of you in the Organic Committee responded with detailed comments, and we revised accordingly. OTA chose not to respond, except to say that it was unacceptable. On June 22, the Petition for Rulemaking was formally submitted to the USDA. It was hoped that even without industry acceptance of this regulatory language, this petition would invite further dialogue with the USDA, the industry and the wider community in hopes of obtaining a mutually-agreeable resolution of the issues involved in the case. We continued to request meetings, and a copy of the proposed law change language throughout the summer.

By late summer it was apparent that the OTA’s law change was moving fast. Senate aides were increasingly concerned that there was no agreement in the organic community, but the pressure from large industry was mounting.

Working Group members obtained the proposed OFPA change language from several Senate aides. The Group then worked fast in reviewing the proposed OFPA amendment, and developing an alternative proposal that would actually strengthen OFPA, as opposed to weakening it. You can see both proposals at http://www.agmatters.net/Staff/C_OFPAPostHarveyAmendCleanfinal.doc.

At a meeting on Thursday evening, September 15, the Working Group proposed a compromise. While OTA attendees suggested we were 98% in agreement, all compromise was rejected on Monday, September 19, and the OTA’s amendment, as originally written, was sent to the Ag Appropriations Committee.

We are now at a serious crossroads in the history of Organic in the United States. A behind-the-scenes law change by industry could severely weaken the integrity of the organic label – both through its substance, and through it’s back-room process. Opposition to this amendment may get loud and very public, and also threaten the future support of the label. For more analysis, see: http://www.agmatters.net/Organic/C_My_Briefcase_Liana_ORGANIC_Harvey_Lawsuit_MYTHANDREALITYfinal.doc

If you agree that this is not the way, the time or the right language, please contact your Senators and tell them so. Please read all you can about this issue, and take a stand.

This Organic Committee is composed of both Working Group members as well as industry members who support the OFPA Law Change now before Congress. While the Committee has for years stood for keeping an OFPA change off the table, we are now faced with a dilemma where the OTA and the public supporters of organic are not unified or in agreement. We believe that we will again be in agreement regarding the upcoming “Farm Bill” and look forward to such cooperation.

However, at this juncture we are not united and it is important for your voices, whatever your position, to be heard. We have tried our best and need your help now.

PLEASE CALL YOUR SENATORS TODAY

Thank You,

NCSA Organic Steering Committee:

Michael Slign, RAFI Elizabeth Henderson, NOFA-NY Roger Blobaum
Joe Mendelson, Center for Food Safety Steve Etka, National Organic Coalition Karen Anderson, NOFA-NJ Liana Hoodes, NCSA Organic Policy Coordinator