Melissa Hillebrand August 4, 2005
Thank you for covering the issue of the recent decision by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the National Organic Program Rules in the July 2005 issue of Baking Management. I appreciate your balanced presentation of the issue.
I believe that the headline used in this article: "Court ruling changes organic standards," misrepresents the situation. The most important thing to realize is that the court did not impose stricter standards on organic products. Organic products have always had, and will continue to have, 95% organic ingredients. Whether all products that contain 95% organic content can use the USDA seal is a question that the court left for Congress to answer.
And, I feel that it is important to clarify some of my statements. Organic sugar does not contain calcium hydroxide as I stated but calcium hydroxide is used to process sugar cane into sugar. Further, my statement "...there is not going to be organic sugar anymore..." did not refer to the available current or potential future supply of organic sugar but rather a worst case scenario of the revised labeling requirements.
New federal regulatory programs frequently have to be adjusted over a period of years. A court ruling merely crystallizes attention on some of the kinks. To that extent, the court ruling is not good or bad; it's just a ruling on the questions that were put before it by the plaintiff. The ruling says to Congress and USDA that there is more work to do. As a result, we at OTA intend to roll up our sleeves and work with them.
While no final division of tasks between Congress and USDA has been determined, OTA intends to continue to partner with organic farmers, consumers and businesses that have so strongly supported the existing organic program and assist Congress and USDA to take appropriate action. Ultimately, OTA believes Congress and USDA will see the wisdom of making the slight corrections in federal law required to protect the existing organic program because it has worked so well for farmers and consumers. Everyone I talk to in Washington, whether at USDA or in Congress, wants to see organic farmers succeed and organic food reach a mainstream audience.
There is no immediate impact on consumers because the court wisely decided to leave the existing rules in place and let Congress and USDA address the issues raised within an allotted time. Whenever there is a new federal regulatory program, especially one as complex as the organic program, it is quite common to have a period of years where the kinks have to be worked out. That is all that is happening here.
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