Please note this information has been updated and is current as of Wednesday, September 20. The situation is fluid and we encourage you to check back for updates.
- The federal rules authorizing the use of the USDA organic seal on food products are 5 years old, and are the touchstone of mainstream consumer acceptance of organic products.
- The current organic rules are the result of adoption by the USDA of recommendations from a citizen advisory board created by Congress and 10 years of notice and comment rulemaking based on those recommendations.
- As might be expected with a new federal program as comprehensive as the nearly 500 page organic rule, certain parts of the rules were found to be inconsistent with the statute.
The June 2005 Court Ruling Threatens the Booming Organic Market
- The June 2005 court ruling impacted three parts of the federal rules.
- First, it effectively blocked the common use of harmless substances like baking powder, one form of pectin, ascorbic acid, vitamins and minerals, etc., the so-called “allowed synthetics” in processed food products bearing the USDA’s organic seal.
- Second, it required the rules relied upon by small dairy farms transitioning to organic management practices be revised, with the unintended result that making the change will be significantly more costly after the ruling.
- Third, it disallowed the procedure implemented by the Secretary’s organic certifying agents for recognizing the commercial unavailability of organic agricultural products.
The Court Preserved the Status Quo for One Year to Allow Congress to Remedy the Problem
- To avoid consumer confusion and market disruption, the Court declined to immediately vacate the rules to allow Congress to consider its ruling.
- Due to crop cycles and the lead time necessary for product formulation, labeling, and marketing of organic products to consumers, legislative clarification must be immediate.
- The businesses that produce and market the majority of America’s certified organic farm products will have to make the business decision to drop product lines or re-label them without the USDA seal by the end of 2005.
- Some have estimated that up to 90% of the multi-ingredient products, that today bear the USDA’s organic seal, will have to be removed or relabeled without using the USDA seal.
- To compensate for the lower value consumers place on products not “organic enough” to carry the USDA seal, some companies may reformulate with less organic content or discontinue certain product lines.
The Solution is to Clarify the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990
- It is critical that Congress seize the opportunity created by the Court and act before the end of the year.
- The necessary clarifications will stabilize the marketplace for farmers, and businesses that contract with farmers for organic agricultural commodities, and do nothing more than restore the status quo—an interpretation of the statute by the citizen advisory board that was created by Congress to advise the Secretary on organic matters.