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    Organic Lobbyists Petition To Prevent USDA From Having Organic Food Oversight
    By Hank Campbell | June 18th 2014 06:30 AM | 21 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

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    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone ever had. Others may prefer Newton or Archimedes...

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    Since 1990 organic food has been allowed to exist independently of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the one federal agency responsible for food safety and quality. Sure, organic food still gets recalls, lots of them - using feces as fertilizer and having customers who think food doesn't need to be washed will do that - but the definition of 'organic' is not determined by the USDA.

    Those dozens and dozens of synthetic additives allowed on the organic food National List? That is because of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), which was created by Congress in 1990. The reason there is no quality assurance for organic food and no surprise spot testing to make sure organic farming is actually organic ? Also thanks to the NOSB. 

    The Board, composed primarily of organic industry insiders, has had the kind of freedom from oversight every industry segment in America wishes they could wrangle.

    But now that organic food is a $35 billion industry and has used a substantial amount of money to create the mythology that their process makes food more nutritious and has no pesticides, the USDA has wanted to reassert some level of control - and they got it. When NOSB was rechartered in May it was instead classified as a time-limited Advisory Board, subject to USDA.

    That was a warning shot to organic food groups, who would prefer to be 'independent' from the USDA. So 20 organic food advocacy groups have filed a petition with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to protest the change. 


    Should one particular food process have its own special part of the USDA? Should any? From Spending More For Organic Does Not Buy You Pesticide-Free by Dr. Steve Savage.

    The groups behind the petition are a Who's Who of organic lobbying: Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Cornucopia Institute, Food&Water Watch, Equal Exchange, La Montanita Co-op (New Mexico), Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, Northwest Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Interstate Council, NOFA Connecticut, NOFA Massachusetts, NOFA New Hampshire, NOFA New Jersey, NOFA New York, NOFA Vermont, Organic Consumers Association, Organically Grown Company, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, and PCC Natural Markets.

    Paige Tomaselli, senior attorney at the Center for Food Safety, says their independence is being jeopardized. They have good reason to worry. The last thing they want is the same oversight conventional farmers have.

    Maybe All Food Should Have Industry Insiders Self-Regulating

    Let's think about this for a moment. Since organic food gets its own self-regulation outside the USDA, why shouldn't everyone? Shouldn't Monsanto, Dupont, and all their biggest customers be on a committee to decide what the standards are for genetically modified foods?

    We can imagine the response from organic corporations if pesticide and seed companies got Congress to create a special fiefdom for them inside government, populated by people from those companies. They could determine what is a GMO and what is not. They could decide not to have any standards beyond paying a fee for a sticker and even encourage companies to promote untruths about their products.

    If self-regulation is good enough for organic food, why isn't it good enough for all food? Is the newest organic myth now going to be that organic corporations are also more ethical than everyone else?

    Comments

    I've learned a lot about Big Organics through their tireless work to promote anti-GMO mythology. Any chance of you doing an article on Big Organics' involvement in this and the drive for GMO labelling?

    Hank
    I think we have covered it a lot, tangentially. We don't harp specifically on the lobbyist connection because it would make us more like Big Organic than Science, but we probably have 40 or so articles detailing the logical and scientific missteps in their rationale for labels and about GMOs.
    Norm Benson
    Here's one: http://normbenson.com/timberati/2012/08/28/proposition-37-doesnt-go-far-...

    The very last point is to your question: 

    Prop 37 (The California Ballot Initiative to Label GMOs) supporters will tell you that they are simply trying to shine a light on the truth about our food and that “Monsanto and some other chemical and agricultural biotech companies are desperate to keep the public in the dark about what is really in their food,” Gary Ruskin, an Oakland-based manager for the campaign, told Bloomberg news in an April 30 interview. But, it is they who do not want to illuminate the debate, otherwise they would have written Prop 37 to show what is really in your food and what your food choices really mean to our environment.

    Not really. Proposition 37 appears to be an old story: large companies lobbying the government to hobble their competitors and thus increase their own profits. The proposition’s backers include Big Karma companies such as Mercola.com Health Resources LLC, Nature’s Path Foods Inc. and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps All-One-God-Faith Inc. All of which could see their bottom lines improved if Prop 37 is passed. The proposition’s drafter, lawyer James Wheaton, also stands to make tidy sums of money through lawsuits, just as he did following the passage of Proposition 65. And, Big Organic is licking its chops for a bigger share of profits. “The burning question for us all then becomes how—and how quickly—can we move healthy, organic products from a 4.2% market niche, to the dominant force in American food and farming?” Organic Consumers Association Director Ronnie Cummins wrote in an open letter earlier this month (Open Letter to the Organic Community: The California Ballot Initiative to Label GMOs https://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/08/02-0 ).

    Once you know the truth (about GE and its opponents and natural chemicals and natural pesticides), it will set you free. Bon appétit.

    Norm Questioning green dogma since 1972.
    Norm Benson
    No one expects the organics inquisition! http://normbenson.com/timberati/2012/08/15/no-one-expects-the-organics-i...
    Norm Questioning green dogma since 1972.
    I hate to put it so bluntly, but this post is utter nonsense. Organic food has always been, and will continue to be, subject to exactly the same USDA and FDA oversight and regulation as any other foodstuff on the market.

    The fact is that the organic sector has voluntarily made itself subject to additional oversight and regulation, first via the certification process, which enforces standards that adhere to internationally-recognized principles for organic production. In order to protect the integrity of the organic label, the organic sector then requested, and received, federal regulation via the USDA's National Organic Program: this ensures that anyone marketing a product as "organic" must be certified to do so. To put it simply, the organic sector moved from self-regulation to government oversight; implying the opposite is ridiculous.

    The current controversy centers solely on how the organic standard under the NOP is maintained and revised. The groups who are protesting want to make sure that the organic sector can continue to uphold the strict integrity of the standard - fresh in their minds are the initial attempts by the USDA to permit GMOs, sewage sludge, and other materials that would clearly contravene the international principles. To imply that they want to freedom to dilute the standard is disingenuous and misleading.

    Conflating maintenance of the organic standard with the type of regulatory oversight common to all food products, and suggesting that organic food has been or could be independent of these regulations is simply false and irresponsible. Your readers deserve better.

    Hank
    I didn't say they were exempt from food recalls. I never said anything close to that.

    I instead stated a known fact: The organic process is not subject to being tested on its own standard. There is zero surprise spot testing of organic food, the way there is conventional food.

    Instead, it is just a cozy label, like Kosher.

    There are dozens of synthetic ingredients allowed in the organic process, and a capricious lack of testing, precisely because the people making all of the money control the standard. My example of letting Monsanto run a special group for GMOs independent of the USDA is completely valid. You like it about organic so would you like it about GMOs or not? It's a simple question.

    You are contending that the NOSB should be independent from USDA management because safety and quality would go down. Sorry, but that is total nonsense and you know it.
    I never suggested that you claimed organic food was exempt from recalls. I will re-iterate it once again: organic food is treated just like any other food under USDA/FDA regulation: it receives the same spot testing. U.S. organic regulations currently provide for surprise inspections/sampling where there is suspicion of fraud; new regulations will require random sampling of 5% of operations annually. Again, this is above and beyond what happens with all food, organic or not. You need to understand that outside the NOP, the USDA and FDA treat food as food. Period.

    Synthetic substances go through an extensive (and often quite acrimonious) review process before they can be added to the National List. Equating organic certification standards to GMO regulations is false equivalence.

    Finally, I am not contending that the NOSB be independent from USDA management: I simply described the concerns and perspective of those protesting the changes. Besides, currently, the NOSB can only make recommendations to the USDA NOP, and it is up to the NOP whether or not they enact those recommendations. The proposed changes would further diminish the stature of this advisory body, and that is the reason for the protest.

    Perhaps you should do some more research to understand the finer points of the organic regulatory system and the roles and functions of the various players before presuming to pass judgement on the entire system.

    Rest assured Mr. Wallbridge, Hank Campbell has done his research, and he has done it very well. He's quite right that organic certification is nothing but a self-regulated free-for-all.

    You're correct that U.S. organic regulations currently provide for surprise inspections/sampling. But these regulations are IGNORED because none of the 100 or so for-profit certifying bodies that "enforce" these regulations want to upset their clients by testing them and then being forced to decertify them because it turns out they're cheating. It's bad for business.

    And spot testing when there is suspicion of fraud is like only letting the police use radar guns when there's suspicion someone's speeding. Hello Mr. Wallbridge... we should test organic farms (at one-tenth the cost of paperwork) so we can FIND OUT who's cheating. It's a no-brainer, and yet you continue to reject this.

    As for plans that will require random sampling of 5% of organic operations annually, the Administrator of the National Organic Program at the USDA, Miles McEvoy, has been promising that since he took office in President Obama's first term! He should really test 100% of operations, but thus far he's not even testing the promised 5%.

    You support all of this, and have the gall to criticize anyone who sees the folly of it all. UN-believable my friend. Just completely unbelievable. You clearly have an interest in keeping things just the way they are, nice and lax!

    Why then do organic marketers claims they are the "most regulated" food on the marketplace (ref: http://usorganicproducts.com/why-us-organic among many similar claims) - when they are only regulated the "same" as other foods as you note? Which means, "organic" production is not regulated in any unique or special manner. However, organic pesticides used have not undergone the same required testing, public comment period and post-approval monitoring as GMOs or synthetic pesticides. So many organic production methods are not regulated by the feral government - such as use of e-Coli breeding manure for fertilizer. I find no federal "regulation" about the use of this production method which has actually been linked to hundreds of deaths and thousand of illnesses.

    Cin An, A number of years ago, I attended a seminar by Dr. Carl Winter from UC Davis. I asked him specifically if there was a centralized agency or mechanism to test composted manure for E. coli and other nasties. He said he knew of none. Given the known downside of improperly composted manure, for the organic industry and aficionados to point fingers at ANY other form of agriculture regarding lack of oversight is so much chutzpah.

    The organic certification process provides a comprehensive, third-party system of regulation and oversight for organic farmers. This is above and beyond the requirements for all other agricultural products, which organic agriculture must also comply with. The EPA regulates pesticides according to available scientific information, not according to whether or not they are approved for organic use: pesticides approved for organic use are widely-used in conventional agriculture as well.

    The organic certification system includes specific requirements regarding the use of composted manure, including testing in certain circumstances. Please note that only 2% of livestock in the U.S. is certified organic, which means that a whole lot of manure is being spread on conventionally-farmed fields, free from the requirements and oversight provided by the organic standards.

    In additional, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that organic food poses greater food safety risk from pathogenic bacteria than other other food on the market - food safety is a concern that needs to be taken very seriously by all participants in the food system. I go into more detail here: http://bit.ly/173yPeA

    Hank
    The organic certification process provides a comprehensive, third-party system of regulation and oversight for organic farmers. 
    If regular food or medicine or pesticides had this supposedly higher caliber of certification, we would all be dead.
    Thanks, Hank. Now I know not to waste any more time trying to engage you in a rational, science-based factual discussion. Silly me.

    Hank
    What science? You bought a sticker and filled out paperwork. And you are saying that organic lobbyists are doing a full-court press to not have more USDA oversight because they are worried organic oversight will be less awesome if organic farm groups don't get to self-govern.  That doesn't pass a logical smell test, it sure had nothing to do with science.
    The FDA is trying to do this now in the food safety modernization act.

    Organic whacks are up in arms that they have to follow guidelines that would force them to use compost safely. Of course everything's a conspiracy to drive organic beet farms out of business so that Monsanto can sit back and kackle with joy at seeing a farmer suffer.

    Mr. Wallbridge. The only "additional oversight" the organic industry is subjected to is record-keeping and once-annual record-checking... the same system that the SEC used to keep Bernie Madoff in check. You're well aware of the fact that there is no organic field testing to ensure organic food is genuine or safe. None.

    You do a disservice to every honest organic farmer in the United States and Canada by pretending that the organic certification system is anything but a sham. Almost half of all organic food sold in the United States and Canada tests positive for prohibited pesticides, and three-quarters of it is imported from countries like China, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.

    This, Mr. Wallbridge, is what happens when there's no field testing.

    I’ve read a few posts here and I can actually relate. I am in love with Marie Callender's cornbread. They are simple to make and super yummy, especially with honey butter. I've been a fan of MC's ever since I was a little girl, and have fond memories of eating it with my family back in San Jose, CA. Check out their website www.mccornbread.com to order your cornbread mix. They also stock a variety of gourmet products I'm sure you will enjoy.

    Hank
    Google's new algorithm positively hammers companies that hire these spammers to junk up the comment sections of legitimate sites so I will leave this here. Then 6 months from now when their search rank has dropped this $300 million company can ask that I take it down for them. And I can tell them to kick rocks.
    Hfarmer
    Funny story.  We got an air based popcorn popper.  The one brand of popcorn I could find which wasn't microwave made a point of putting a no GMO label on the jar.  :/  
    In truth popcorn like all other corn has been specifically bread and genetically modified by breeding from it's natural form to be corn.  On top of that popcorn is even more modified to create the best popped kernels.    
    The truth was exposed by Penn and Teller in a classic gag. Logic almost has nothing to do with it.
    Showing you can get people to ban that horrible chemical dihydrogen monoxide.  It is in pesticides, used by the nuclear industry and many other big industries, mining, fracking, western medicine uses it before every surgery,  it is a major component of acid rain.   ...



    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Hank
    I know where you can buy Non-GMO certified rock salt to go on that super-healthy popcorn.
    Hfarmer
    lol.  That and a can of vegan Perri-Air would make my day.
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.