WASHINGTON - Congress voted yesterday to weaken the nation's organic
food standards in response to pressure from large-scale food manufacturers.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) and food processors have been pressing
Congress to change the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) to allow for
the use of numerous synthetic substances in products labeled "organic"
and to weaken organic dairy standards.
A recent court decision ruled that the OFPA does not allow synthetic
(non-natural) ingredients to be used in foods labeled "organic"
and that the act must ensure a strong standard under which dairy cows
are converted to organic milk production. After rejecting efforts by members
of the public interest and environmental community to reach an agreement
on these issues, major food processors in the organic food industry, including
Smucker's, Dean Foods, and Kraft, pushed Congress to "quietly"
change the law to allow the use of such synthetic ingredients and potentially
weaken the organic dairy standards.
"Congress voted last night to weaken the national organic standards
that consumers count on to preserve the integrity of the organic label,"
said Ronnie Cummins, National Director of the Organic Consumers Association..
"The process was profoundly undemocratic and the end result is a
serious setback for the multi billion dollar alternative food and farming
system that the organic community has so painstakingly built up over the
past 35 years. The rider will take away the traditional role of the organic
community and the National Organic Standards Board in monitoring and controling
organic standards. Industry's stealth attack has unnecessarily damaged
the standards that helped organic foods become the fastest growing sector
in the food industry."
As passed, the amendment sponsored by the Organic Trade Association
· Numerous synthetic food additives and processing aids, including
over 500 food contact substances, to be used in organic foods without
· Young dairy cows to continue to be treated with antibiotics
and fed genetically engineered feed prior to being converted to organic
· Loopholes under which non-organic ingredients could be substituted
for organic ingredients without any notification of the public based on
The amendment was vigorously opposed by consumer, retail and growers
groups, as well as public health and environmental groups, including National
Cooperative Grocers Association, National Organic Coalition and Rural
Advancement Foundation International USA, Beyond Pesticides, National
Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, Organic Consumers Association, and
Consumers Union. Consumers sent more than 300,000 letters to Congress
imploring members to stand up against industry's efforts to weaken the
In October 2002, just days after the rules governing organic under NOP
were implemented, Maine blueberry farmer Arthur Harvey filed suit against
USDA claiming that the USDA regulations governing foods labeled "organic"
contravened several principles of the OFPA. Having initially lost on all
counts, Harvey prevailed in January 2005 when the Court of Appeals ruled
in his favor on the three counts finding:
1. Synthetic substances are not permitted in processing of items labeled
as "organic," and only allowed in the "made with organic"
2. Provisions allowing up to 20-percent non-organic feed in the first
nine months of a dairy herd's one-year conversion to organic production
are not permitted.
3. All exemptions for the use of non-organic products "not commercially
available in organic form" must be reviewed by National Organic Standards
Board, and certifiers must review the operator's attempt to source organic.