Thousands of Farmers and Consumers Demanding USDA Organic Program Overhaul

USDA Receives 5,000 Letters Demanding Organic Program Overhaul

In an effort to protect the integrity and critical function of the National Organic Program (NOP), food and farm policy research group, the Cornucopia Institute, has delivered more than 5,000 letters from concerned farmers and consumers to the USDA urging it to take immediate action.

The Wisconsin-based group has been vocal about its criticism of the NOP and the governance of the National Organic Standards Board, which makes recommendations for the USDA organic program. In recent years, Cornucopia has suggested that corporate interests are influencing policymaking for the organic label and mismanagement of the program is threatening organic farmers and the nation’s organic food supply. It’s also been highly critical of Deputy Administrator, Miles McEvoy, who oversees the program.

The group says the current USDA management, led by McEvoy, is weakening the NOP by failing to enforce fraud and alleged violations of organic regulations as they pertain to numerous issues, including animal agriculture. Cornucopia has been particularly critical of Horizon Organic, the leading producer or organic dairy products in North America, for its use of conventional factory farm style animal housing and providing questionable access to outdoors for its animals, despite NOP regulations forbidding such practices.

The group also points to several other issues, including allowing hydroponic farming—foods grown without organic soil—to utilize the USDA organic label; a “flood” of organic imports from China, India, Central America, and the former Soviet Bloc states, which the group says is hurting U.S. organic farmers; hindering the Sunset review process of non-organic materials the group says are often allowed because of pressures by special interest groups; and what Cornucopia calls a violation of the Organic Foods Production Act, improper governance of the USDA and NOP by its own staff.

“We want organics to live up to the true meaning envisioned by the founders of this movement,” Mark Kastel, Cornucopia’s Senior Farm Policy Analyst, said in a statement. “For both organic farmers and organic consumers, that means sound environmental stewardship, humane animal husbandry, wholesome and nutritious food derived from excellent soil fertility, and economic justice for those who produce our food. The USDA needs to act to preserve consumer trust in the organic label.”

The Cornucopia Institute also notes that Consumer Reports, the leading nonprofit conducting unbiased product reviews, recently downgraded the USDA organic label’s credibility in large part due to issues brought to light by the watchdog group.

“The corporations that are part of the Organic Trade Association, like Driscoll’s, General Mills (Cascadian Farms, Muir Glenn, Annie’s), WhiteWave (Horizon, Silk, Earthbound Farms, Wallaby) and Clif Bar, have the power to trade the credibility of the organic seal for short-term profit,” says Kastel. “The USDA needs to step in and protect the public.”

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.