Greenfield (April 20, 2000)—The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) must make some significant changes to its proposed rule implementing national organic standards or else a number of popular organic products consumers now look for on store shelves won’t be there any longer, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) has warned.
"Although the latest USDA proposed rule seems to address many of the concerns raised about its first proposed rule, there are a few major flaws that need attention," said Katherine DiMatteo, OTA’s executive director.
For instance, the proposed rule only allows the use of synthetic substances that the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has already reviewed. That list, however, is incomplete. Products affected would include organic cheese (enzymes), organic yogurt (fermentation materials), organic tofu (defoaming agents), and vitamins used in raising livestock.
"The industry needs to know what USDA will do to facilitate NOSB’s completion of the national list, particularly since there is no budget allocated for this process," DiMatteo added.
OTA, however, lauded USDA’s provisions for four labeling options in the proposed rule.
"Providing label choices for organic products will give consumers choices and promote the growth of organic production," DiMatteo said. "No matter which label an individual may favor, each purchase of a product which contains organic ingredients encourages the use of an agricultural production system which protects the soil and water resources that sustain life on earth."
OTA also raised some additional concerns. Because there is no structure in place for certification agencies to check the production methods used for non-organic agricultural ingredients, organic producers will face an undue burden in producing multi-ingredient products that are less than 100 percent organic. The proposed rule carries the expectation that in products labeled as "made with organic (specified ingredients)," the non-organic portion also is free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), sludge use, or irradiated materials. However, without additional action by USDA to indicate if these other ingredients have been produced using sewage sludge or GMOS, organic producers should not be held liable for content claims about non-organic agricultural ingredients.
Because organic agriculture is a process, not a product, claim, organic producers should only be held liable for production processes under their control. The proposed rule provides organic producers no protection against chemical or genetic trespass. It also does not address the issue of liability for damages should such trespass occur. Organic farmers should not risk financial loss due to non-organic agricultural methods that have the potential to contaminate organic products.
Also, contrary to USDA’s stated goal of supporting small farms, the proposed rule as written will pose burdensome challenges for family farms and small businesses. For instance, the proposed rule threatens the existence of certification programs run by membership-based organizations that rely on member volunteers for expertise. Instead, USDA needs to rewrite the rule to create protections against conflict of interest without jeopardizing these organizations.
Meanwhile, OTA is asking that there be a one-time exemption allowing dairy animals to be fed organic feed for at least the last three months, rather than 12 months. This allowance would support small farmers who wish to make the transition to organic dairy production.
OTA currently is preparing formal written comments spelling out its concerns about the proposed rule, and will submit them to USDA before the comment period ends June 12. OTA is asking interested parties to support OTA’s positions on the rule and voice their comments as well. Updates on OTA’s position are posted on OTA’s web site (www.ota.com).
OTA is the business association representing the organic industry in North America. Its mission is to encourage global sustainability through promoting and protecting the growth of diverse organic trade. OTA members include growers, shippers, retailers, processors, certifiers, farmer associations, brokers, consultants, importers, exporters, distributors, ingredient and agricultural suppliers, restaurants, and others.
April 20, 2000
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