WASHINGTON - April 29 - Rules and regulations governing the quality of organic food and farming standards are being weakened according to critics of the federal National Organic Program and they intend to take their message to the semi-annual meeting of the National Organics Standards Board (NOSB) in Chicago this Friday.
We have lost confidence in the ability of USDA's National Organic Program to protect the credibility of organic agriculture, says Mark Kastel, Director of The Organic Integrity Program at The Cornucopia Institute. The USDA, charges Kastel, is watering down the standards to benefit large corporations at the expense of organic consumers and family-scale organic farmers.
The Cornucopia Institute is working with organic farmers and consumers to ensure that voices of opposition to these changes are heard at the NOSB meeting. A number of organic farmers from around the country - who are unable to attend the meeting - have submitted testimony that will be presented on their behalf by a consumer who supports their farming practices.
Among the organic farmers is Larry Gilbertson, who operates a dairy farm near Marshfield, Wisconsin. In his prepared testimony, Gilbertson says: This farm has been certified nearly three years and has been farmed that way at least three years prior to certification. Milk from about 40 cows is sold organic and all herd replacements are from on farm births. I have deep concerns for organic food and the people who look to the USDA organic label. When stories of these exemptions come out in the press, it destroys the whole program for everyone, save perhaps only the few getting the favors, at least in the short term. The National Organic Program needs people who understand organics and have a passion for this alternative type of food production in this country.
Two recent examples illustrate the drive to weaken organic standards, according to Kastel. USDA bureaucrats reversed a decision made by an accredited organic certifier who had denied organic certification to a factory farm raising chickens because the chickens lacked access to the outdoors. Organic standards for dairy operations are also threatened by a staff decision allowing a large organic dairy farm to purchase conventional replacement heifers from off the farm and then phase them into their organic operation. Previous policy demanded that all replacement milkers come from certified organic operations.
Connecting the dots between these and other policy decisions reveals a pattern of accommodation between the USDA and large corporate interests who want to control the future of organic agriculture, says Kastel. The weakening of organic standards could severely damage consumer interest in one of agricultures rare bright spots a $12 billion sector that has been growing by more than 20% a year.
Those upset with the policy direction of the National Organic Program are calling upon USDA Secretary Ann Veneman to implement regime change. Says Kastel: We need management and staff at the NOP who are qualified, have a strong organic background and respect the organic community.
The Cornucopia Institute is non-profit group dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. The groups Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate watchdog monitoring the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces.