WASHINGTON. (July 22, 1998)--Today at a meeting of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) held here, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman surprised attendees with an announcement regarding synthetic materials in organic production. Glickman assured the NOSB and other organic industry leaders in attendance that the USDA will include no synthetic materials in its federal Proposed Rule for organic that have not been approved by the NOSB. In other words, at least with the allowed synthetic materials list, the USDA will utilize the NOSB's original recommendations.
The USDA was heavily criticized by the organic industry and the public for not closely following the NOSB's recommendations, which took over five years to research and draft. "The synthetic materials list was one of the Organic Trade Association's (OTA) key areas of concern in the first Proposed Rule," said Katherine DiMatteo, executive director for the OTA. "This announcement is a strong indication that the USDA will acquiesce to the NOSB's authority when it comes to allowed synthetic materials in organic production. This is the safety valve our industry has been fighting for."
According to DiMatteo, Secretary Glickman was extremely passionate in his speech today about organic agriculture's inclusion in U.S. agricultural initiatives. Charged with the responsibility to preserve and sustain US agriculture, the Secretary said, "I'm not afraid of running out of wheat or corn; I'm afraid of running out of farmers." Glickman stated that his department viewed initiatives like organic agriculture and Farmers' Markets as important economic opportunities for farmers.
Organic industry activism for high integrity organic regulations at the federal level appears to be making an impression on the USDA. An avalanche of over 275,000 public comments on the USDA's first set of rules resulted in the USDA making an about face. USDA agreed to not include the "big three"--irradiation, genetically-modified organisms or sewage sludge--as acceptable practices in organic production. Today's announcement shows that the USDA is moving beyond the "big three" to other less publicized but key industry issues regarding the Proposed Rule.
"It seems they've heard us, they've finally heard us," said DiMatteo. "I hope that we can continue to build trust, and ultimately achieve a high integrity federal regulation for consumers and the organic industry."
Yesterday, the USDA's National Organic Program Director Keith Jones admitted that USDA staff are still plowing through a record-breaking number of letters, and tabulating the results, which will be used in re-writing the Proposed Rule. He announced that the USDA will abide by the following guiding principles for its National Organic Program:
1) Keep it simple 2) Make it enforceable 3) Make it defensible 4) Focus on accredited certifiers 5) Ensure consistency 6) Minimize costs to the industry for certifying food as organic
Jones indicated that he anticipated the second draft of the Proposed Rule would be out by the end of the year, but didn't clarify if that would be released for review by the Office of Management and Budget or to the public through the Federal Register.
The organic industry, estimated by the OTA to be a $4 billion industry growing at over 24% annually, will continue to embrace and advocate for strict standards for organic, from growing, to processing, to shipping and handling.
July 22, 1998
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