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Twenty food, farm and consumer advocacy groups, including The Cornucopia Institute, Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Organic Consumers Association and Food & Water Watch, filed a petition with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack this week over changes made to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) charter, which was renewed on May 8. They say that the organic food label as we know it is in jeopardy.

The group says recent changes to the charter undermine the mandatory duties of the NOSB to uphold the integrity of the organic food label, which was established by Congress under the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990.

Among the petitioner’s complaints is a move by the USDA to reclassify the role of the NOSB to purely advisory. The NOSB, a 15-member stakeholder body, was created to protect the integrity of the USDA organic label. The groups’ petition says that the USDA’s refocus of the board is not adhering to the current laws and the agency must revise the recent NOSB charter to be legally compliant.

“The independence of the NOSB is the backbone of the system of organic governance that Congress set up to prevent the industry from being corrupted by undue agribusiness lobbying influence, a dynamic all too common in Washington,” Will Fantle, Research Director at The Cornucopia Institute said in a statement.

During the May stakeholders meeting, controversy over changes to the NOSB were met with protests during the meetings and one arrest.

“These changes to the NOSB Charter are significant and directly controvert the specific mandates of OFPA and Congress that NOSB is a permanent, non-discretionary committee that must fulfill a long list of statutorily mandated duties integral to the organic program,” said Aimee Simpson, policy director and staff attorney for Beyond Pesticides.

“It is questionable whether the law being debated in the 1990s would have received overwhelming organic community support if the powerful NOSB buffer, to prevent future corruption by moneyed interests, was not established,” said Fantle.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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