Republicans gut organic food laws to allow artificial ingredients

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2 comments posted
Organic Regulations

Hi there. I love the concept of all women articles. I don't love the concept of uninlightened positions, so I feel obligated to clear up some confusion about Congress' recent decision on the organic standards. Following is a fact sheet about what's really going on here, from the Organic Trade Association (whom I work for):

Clarifications concerning claims about Congress’ recent action

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) would like to address some of the questions being raised concerning the recent amendment to the Organic Foods Production Act adopted by Congress as part of the Appropriations Bill.

OTA would also like to stress that the action taken by Congress authorizes the U.S. Department of Agriculture, through its citizen’s advisory board and public comment process, to address issues of concern with the organic rule through future rulemaking. Thus, the organic community in the future can help refine and improve standards that cover areas of concern raised about livestock practices and use of synthetic substances in organic production.

Question: Critics claim that the new language proposed by OTA and adopted by Congress makes the following changes. Are these claims valid?

Claim 1: Numerous synthetic food additives and processing aids, including over 500 food contact substances, can now be used in organic foods without public review.

Claim 2: Loopholes under which non-organic ingredients could be substituted for organic ingredients can now occur without any public notification based on emergency decrees.

Claim 3: Young dairy cows can now continue to be treated with antibiotics and fed genetically engineered feed prior to being converted to organic production.

Facts concerning claims 1 and 2:

No new synthetic substances may be allowed in organic production without the review and approval of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

The language adopted makes it possible for the continued use of a limited list of stringently-reviewed synthetic materials (38 in all) in organic post-harvest handling and processing that have been allowed since the implementation of national organic standards in 2002. These materials were previously reviewed and approved by NOSB. The process remains exactly the way it has always been.

No loophole was created by Congress’s decision. Congress did not mandate an emergency decree. Instead, action taken by Congress now allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a process if the need arises. Possible reasons for an emergency decree could include a major loss of crops due to storms or other disasters. This emergency decree only applies to organic crops, and does not apply to synthetic materials. It is also limited to minor ingredients (less than 5%) within a product, and is not intended to be a provision for major ingredients. A manufacturer cannot substitute more than 5% of conventional ingredients in the finished product. The non-organic ingredients accepted under the emergency decree will be placed on the National List for no more than 12 months.

Fact concerning Claim 3:

This issue is unrelated to the lawsuit or Congress’ recent action. The current organic regulations on this matter have not been changed. The NOSB has a recommendation on this issue that will be published by USDA for public comment. This is just further

Lisa Bell's picture
Posted by Lisa Bell (not verified) on 4 November 2005 - 3:59pm
Your comment got cut off

...but what I gather from what you say is that it's actually worse than we thought -- that the organic label is already a rather vague term that does not infact represent what most people believe. No?

media girl's picture
Posted by media girl on 4 November 2005 - 4:46pm