Despite the fact that organic is more popular than ever and companies such as Walmart and Target are significantly boosting their offerings, one would think that support for organic in Washington, D.C. would be growing as well.
Sadly, that is not the case.
Not only is support for organic not growing, the Obama administration and his USDA are doing everything they can to weaken organic standards and dismantle the authority of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), an independent, 15-member advisory board which helps to oversee the industry and make important recommendations.
THE SUNSET RULE
One of the most important policies that we have in organic is something called The Sunset Rule. What this means is the following.
A company can petition the NOSB to allow for the use of synthetic and non-organic materials in organic production. These materials receive temporary approval (5 years) until organic alternatives are developed — hence, the term “sunset”.
After the five years have passed, the materials are removed from approval, unless a 2/3rds vote from the NOSB allows them to remain in organic for another five years.
However, the USDA recently changed this rule so that at the end of the 5-year period, these materials will remain, unless a 2/3rds vote from the NOSB decides to remove them.
The burden of proof has completely shifted from “prove why they should stay” to “prove why they shouldn’t stay”.
And with the NOSB stacked with USDA insiders, getting these synthetic and non-organic materials removed will be incredibly difficult.
Allowing more and more synthetics approved for organic production will undermine the integrity of our industry and diminish the value of the organic seal.
In response to this Sunset Rule change, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon wrote a letter to the USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack expressing their strong objection.
Alexis-Baden Mayer, Political Director of the Organic Consumers Association, was willing to get arrested at the recent NOSB meeting in San Antonio, Texas because of her outrage over this change. That is the magnitude of how important this rule is.
GOVERNANCE OF THE NOSB
In addition to the Sunset Rule change, the USDA has made harmful changes as to how the NOSB operates.
It removed the ability of the NOSB to set its own work plan and agenda, effectively allowing the USDA to conduct its own meetings. The USDA also claims to have the power to co-chair NOSB meetings.
The most worrisome of them all is that the USDA changed the charter of the NOSB, which raises the possibility that the NOSB could be completely eliminated and all organic policies would be entirely in the hands of the USDA.
This is in direct violation of the Organic Food Production Act of 1990, which mandated that the NOSB exist and have an active role.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Cornucopia Institute, Center for Food Safety, Organic Consumers Association, Food & Water Watch and others have filed a petition with the USDA to reverse these changes.
This is a first step in the legal process and additional actions (lawsuits) may very well be pursued.
These watchdog organizations have done their part, and now it is time to do ours.
Please click HERE to sign the electronic petition and tell the White House not to let the
USDA undermine the governance and integrity of organic food.
We have only until August 14th to get to 100,000 signatures, so please share this post with your network as soon as possible.
Thank you so much for supporting organic food.
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