Organic Food Production Act: TRANSCRIPT of Testimony and Delivery of Petitions to US Senate Committee on Agriculture Nutrition and Forestry 1990

Organic Food Production Act

TRANSCRIPTS of Testimony and Delivery of Petitions to
US Senate Committee on Agriculture Nutrition and Forestry

March 26, 1990


Mr. Blobaum. Mr. Chairman, the petitions are all here in these boxes and we will just make a token presentation here.

These are petitions with 136,000 signatures gathered nationwide by individuals who, among other things, have expressed a strong interest in national standards for organic agriculture.

Senator Leahy. I see a number of these petitions are from states where we have members on the committee, and I think we will make it a point to let the members know how people feel.

Senator Daschle. When were these petitions collected?

Mr. Blobaum. In 1989, in anticipation of this kind of event.

Senator Daschle. And you said there are 100,000?

Mr.Blobaum. There are 136,000 signatures.

Senator Daschle. We really appreciate you making these presentations. Thank you very much.

Senator Leahy. Thank you very much. I know that in the box there are even more.

Mr.Blobaum. Thank you, very much, Mr.Chairman. I might: point out that CSPI is a 200,000 member, improved health and nutrition policy/advocacy organization. We really appreciate the opportunity to present the petitions in this way.

I will submit my statement for the record and would like to, very briefly, summarize the points.

Senator Daschle. Without objection.

Mr. Blobaum. We do support S. 2108 but we do have some specific suggestions for improvement that are outlined in the testimony point by point.

One of the things, Mr. Chairman, that we are very uneasy about is giving implementation authority to a federal agency that that has long been perceived as being officially opposed to organic agriculture. This is a source of considerable concern.

To deal with that, we feel the bill should be very specific, much more so than most farm legislation; that it should give as little discretion as possible to federal and state officials as authorized in the bill; and it should provide for a strong national organic board. There should be no opportunity for weakening the standards during the implementation process.

We also are concerned about enforcement and we strongly endorse the bill’s provision for citizen suits. We think it is absolutely essential that these suits be provided by the bill.

Senator Daschle. Do I understand you to say that you think the bill still gives far too much discretion to the Department?

Mr. Blobaum. We would hope that it could be tightened up a little more, yes, sir.

Senator Daschle. I would not ask you to do it now, but I would like to have some specific examples of where you think the bill could be tightened for the record.

Mr.Blobaum. I think most of it is in our testimony. If not we will be glad to respond more fully to your request.

We feel this legislation should provide minimum standards to be met by all who use USDA’s label, but that states should continue to have the right to adopt more stringent standards.

One of the most important sections deals with the national list of approved and prohibited inputs and practices. We feel that a strict synthetic versus natural definition should be avoided, and the bill does avoid that. The criteria should be based on whether an input or a practice causes adverse health or environmental effects. The criteria and the process involved in establishing and maintaining the national list are very critical elements of this bill, because they deal directly with the standards.

The list should start, we feel, with what certified organic farmers are using and doing now, then the list should be amended as time goes on, on the basis of science. The process of challenge to some of these materials could begin as soon as the implementation phase begins.

This bill provides significant food safety, environmental, and farm market development benefits. I think it is important to note that organic food is a value-added farm product that will help increase farm income. It will encourage enirnmental steardship. It wil provide important assistance to the emergin organic food industry and facilitate interstate commerce in fresh and processed organiccally grown food. We urege you to recomment passage of this timely and imporant piece of legiatlaion.

(The prepared statement of Roger Blobaum follows:)


Senator Daschle. Thank you very much, Roger, for your statement and the contribution you and your organization have made to this effort. . .

. . . . . .

So with that, let me again reiterate our thanks and we will ask you to come back in a few minutes.

Our first panel consists of three witnesses, Faye Jones of Wisconsin, representing the Organic Farmers Associations Council; Mark Retzloff of Colorado, representing the Organic Foods Alliance; and Allen Rosenfeld of Public Voice, representing the Organic Foods Working Group. If those three people could come to the table, we will take their testimony at this time.

Your entire text will, of course, be a part of the record and we would invite you to summarize; in fact encourage you to summarize. If each of you could limit your remarks orally to five minutes, we will take your testimony at this time, beginning with Ms. Jones.


Do I also understand that most of you believe that the producers themselves have to bear part of the responsibility for that promotional effort? I think everyone would agree with that, except Ms. Jones. You disagree with that, right? I do not want to put words in your mouth.

Ms. Jones. I, of course, think that we should pay for part of it, but if we are paying all of the assessments, we would be the ones paying for all of this particular promotion program.

Senator Daschle. Let me move on to another point. The transition to organic labels. There are conflicting views about the transition to organic label. Who wants to go first, in defending it or opposing it? Mr. Blobaum?

Mr. Blobaum. We feel that a transition label should be tried on a demonstration bases, on a limited basis, in a few states.

Senator Daschle. You support the demo program?

Mr. Blobaum. Yes, but we do not support the low-input approach because we do not know how you can define that.

Senator Daschle. You support the demo approach, but not the low input approach? . . .

. . . . . .

Mr. Blobaum. Our support is based on the fact that we feel that there should be national incentive, if possible, for farmers to make the switch and this is one way of possibly doing this, if it works.

Senator Daschle. So you support the concept only as a demonstration, not as a permanent feature? I mean, if it proves that there is not really marketing viability in having this transition label, you would then be prepared to come back to the committee and say look, it is not working, we do not want to do it anymore?

Mr. Blobaum. That is correct.

Senator Daschle. So you are doing it for informational purposes, is that it?

Mr. Blobaum. Both to gain information and to see if this is the kind of incentive that could work to help organic producers.

Senator Daschle. What is wrong with trying to find out? Mr. Alston?

Mr. Alston. Let me make a point, Mr. Chairman, or two points. We do support the transitional grower, but we sell it as regular product. We are willing to support any grower that is trying to go organic and we will support him in that way. . . .

. . . . . .

Ms. Cody. We have been discussing this quite a bit and we saw that there were two cases. Indeed, some chemicals you can test adequately enough to detect 5 percent of the EPA level. Some you cannot, as Janet has said.

Senator Daschle. How can we write it into law?

Ms. Cody. Here is how. We propose that we have a specific wording change for the Leahy bill that in the cases where you can test down to 5 percent, that that be the absolute level at which above it you cannot sell that produce as organic. For those which that requires too much technical sophistication at this time

Senator Daschle. You are talking about a golden parachute for the legal community it seems to me.

Ms. Cody. What we are proposing is that it just be done to the limit of quantification as defined by somebody —

 Senator Daschle. Can you not imagine the lawyers going at it for years and years saying, well, we do not have the ability. The other lawyers say, of course, we have the ability, look here.

Ms. Cody. It is defined by a specific—using the testing methods of either the USDA or the EPA or the FDA depending on who seems to be the appropriate Federal agency. So with those three caveats it seems to cover all the legal–

Senator Daschle. We will take a look at it.

Ms. Cody. This is the wording we used in Oregon and the lawyers there did not argue.

Senator Daschle. That is because they know what is coming if they do. Mr. Blobaum?

Mr. Blobaum. Mr. Chairman, I think there are two larger issues involved in this discussion. One is the real concern, I think, that many of us share that the Secretary, some Secretary, will give into pressure and water down the standards by adding things to the list. That is the first thing.

The second thing is, we do not want to see organic farming by neglect, by people who just do not put on certain things and then claim that they are organic, that is not what organic agriculture is. This legilation needs to cover both inputs and practices. So those are two kind of general concerns that are involved in all of these comments.

Senator Daschle. Let me move on to the last point I want to raise at the hearing for now. That deals with how much—actually, let me fold in the two concerns I have. One is the independence of the board. And secondly, the authority of the Department to regulate all of this. In the regulatory mode now we have got the board and we have the got the Secretary and the Department of Agriculture. Let me take it one piece at a time. . . .

. . . . . .

In other words what I heard you saying is that we ought to give more power to the regulators to do the job they must to ensure that we attain the objectives of the bill. Is that not in conflict?

Mr.Blobaum. I was referring, Mr.Chairman, to the authority of the National Organic Board and the standards board and so forth. I still want to very strongly express concern about placing this program in an unfriendly agency. I think that this is something that really has to have a lot of consideration.

If this were a cotton program, no one would be concerned about any of these things because USDA has always been extremely friendly and willing to promote cotton. That is not the case with organic agriculture. I think that this whole industry places itself in a position where there is a lack of trust that we are somewhat fearful of what will happen with this program if these safeguards are not built in. That is why we feel strongly about the board and about giving the Secretary virtually no discretion; only as much as you have to.

Senator Daschle. You are in favor of significant regulation as long as it is handled by a board which you believe is going to be responsible and—or I should say, responsive in meeting the needs of the industry? . . .

. . . . . .

Mr. Alston. Mr. Chairman, just one comment from a supermarketer’s point of view. That broccoli that is organic or broccoli that is chemically grown comes into our store, it is virtually impossible to tell the difference. So we have two problems.

At the supermarket level, we have to be extremely careful of how we handle it, and also at the growers end and the shippers end, because there is no way without a strong regulation and certification to tell us which is truly organic and which is not. That is the main concern I have today. When I get a case of broccoli, I do not whether it is organic. It may say organic, and I can test it and find no residues, and I have to assume that it is organic.

Senator Daschle. You are ultimately the one who the consumer would hold accountable.

Mr. Alston. That is correct, they come right back to me. Senator Daschle. Mr. Blobaum?

Mr.Blobaum. I do not know whether you call this regulation or not, Mr. Chairman, but certainly the audit trail has to be absolutely fool proof. The record keeping and all of those things that responsible, certified organic farmers do today should be written into this bill and should be absolutely insisted upon. I would not characterize that as regulation, though. It is just part of the certification system that we have.

Ms. Jones. That the farmers themselves have set up and participated in. I think we do not want to lose sight of the fact that certification is really the means for the integrity of the industry.

Senator Daschle. But see, you are talking about—you are taking a retrospective look at your industry, and you do have, I think, a very good retrospective reputation. Prospectively—let us assume this continues to grow by leaps and bounds and Corporation XYZ from Switzerland comes in and does not hold the same high standards that you do, and becomes a dominant force on this little organic board that is now cut from 200 to 20, and then begins marketing.

What assurance does the consumer have, or does your industry have, that you are going to be able to maintain quality control under those circumstances?

Ms. Jones. They would not be able to pass certification standards.

Senator Daschle. If all that was doing it was that 20-member board and they were able to conjure up whatever votes necessary to get 11 of the 20 votes. Now that is not to say that that same thing would not happen in the Department. But the point is to have that balance somehow. Having somebody watching the watchers, and vice versa, seems to me to be pretty important.

This has been a good hearing. I appreciate the tes-timony by everybody. The record will be held open if anybody has additional comments to make.