THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE TO RELEASE PROPOSED NATIONAL ORGANIC FOODS STANDARDS ON DECEMBER 16
“ORGANIC WATCH,” A BROAD COALITION
REPRESENTING MILLIONS OF AMERICANS, IS FORMED TO PROVIDE PUBLIC INTEREST ASSESSMENT AND OVERSIGHT OF PROPOSED STANDARDS
“ORGANIC WATCH” ACTIVITIES TO INCLUDE UNPRECEDENTED NATIONWIDE OUTREACH TO ORGANIC FOOD PROVIDERS AND CONSUMERS
WATCHDOG GROUP ESTABLISHES “TOP TEN” ISSUE LIST FOR IMMEDIATE REVIEW OF PROPOSED STANDARDS
Washington D.C. On Tuesday December 16,1997 the United States Department of Agriculture will release its proposed national organic food standards. In response to the long-awaited publication of the rules, a wide-ranging coalition has announced the formation of “Organic Watch.” Organic Watch, working closely with other national coalitions, including the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, will devote itself to providing public interest assessment and oversight of the proposed organic standards and other regulation of the organic industry.
Organic Watch includes scientists, agricultural experts, lawyers, activists and many others in the public interest community who have dedicated themselves to the organic standards effort for the last decade. Its grass roots network outreach includes over 250 cooperating public interest organizations, hundreds of organic farmers, and over 2,500 natural food stores, co-ops, farmer’s markets, and community restaurants and CSA’s.
Members of Organic Watch applauded the publication of the proposed rule after months of deliberation at the USDA and Office of Management and Budget (OMB). They noted that a standardized certification standard would represent a major boost for the organics industry. However, the coalition cautioned that the organics industry had been built on very high consumer expectation and confidence and that careful review of the rule would be necessary to assess its adequacy in maintaining the integrity of organic food production. As stated by Roger Blobaum, who was co-chair of the Organic Working Group that helped formulate organics legislation, “A broad coalition of consumer, environmental, animal protection and other organizations helped shape the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and push it through Congress. I hope the proposed rule will be true to the letter and spirit of that law. Clearly, it is essential that these standards fully reflect the principles of organic agriculture and guarantee the integrity of organically grown food.”
A key element in the review will be how well the proposed rule corresponds to the recommendations of the National Organic Standards Board. As noted by Organic Watch member Michael Sligh, “As a founding Chair of the NOSB, we have worked hard to create an open consensus process in formulating the recommendations. Any major departure from the NOSB recommendations could trigger a loss of consumer confidence and be a potentially devastating blow to the organics market.”
Organic Watch has created a preliminary “Top Ten” list of the major issues which will require immediate assessment and review. They are: (1) Biotechnology; (2) Livestock standards that include access to outdoors; (3) Socio-economic impacts on family size organic operations; (4) On-going role of the NOSB; (5) Impacts on private sector infrastructure-including appropriate roles for private certifiers and meaningful peer review; (6) Costs and red tape; (7) Meaningful and clear enforceable standards, including a strong workable farm plan and careful resolution of the enhanced standards question; (8) Full and accurate labeling; (9) Consumer right to know; (10) Materials list development, including which synthetics are allowed and why.
Commenting on the Biotechnology issue, Organic Watch member Andrew Kimbrell stated, “After lengthy deliberations the NOSB prohibited genetically engineered ingredients or materials from organic certification. The allowance of biotechnology into organics in any manner by the proposed rule would be a major deal breaker, and would lead to industry and consumer rejection of the rule and potential litigation.”
On the Livestock Standards, Melanie Adcock, DVM cautioned, “For the first time, consumers will be able to purchase meat and dairy products that are produced under a national standard for organic production. It is critical that this standard follow the NOSB recommendation and provide consumers the opportunity to choose products that come from animals allowed outdoor access and raised without the routine use of antibiotics.”
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On December 16, Organic Watch will initiate several activities to ensure that the public, the media and the organics industry receive detailed and accurate scientific and legal assessments of the proposed rule. Actions will include:
~ Assessment Report: Scientists, lawyers and agricultural experts who are associated with Organics Watch members will undertake a detailed review of the proposed rule and compare it with the National Organic Standards Board Recommendations and international standards for the organic industry. Emphasis will be put on the “top ten” list. The coalition will then issue this assessment in report form.
— Media and Public Outreach: Organic Watch will release the Report at a press briefing and will provide for large-scale dissemination of the Report including website availability.
After issuing its Report, Organic Watch will launch a national effort to ensure that organic providers, farmers and the millions of organics consumers participate in the comment process on the proposed standards. Actions will include:
—Activation of Organics Watch Members: Organic Watch will activate the constituencies of its over 250 public interest organization network, representing millions of Americans, so that they provide the USD A with informed comments on the proposed standards.
—Activation of Organic Food consumers and industry — Organic Watch will sponsor informational displays in thousands of organic food stores, restaurants and coops to ensure that the nation’s over 2 million consumers of organics understand the importance of the proposed standards and contribute to the notice and comment process.