Welcome to Consumer Reports Advocacy

For 85 years CR has worked for laws and policies that put consumers first. Learn more about CR’s work with policymakers, companies, and consumers to help build a fair and just marketplace at TrustCR.org

USDA misleads public on organic label, putting program at risk

October 8, 2004
Urvashi Rangan
(914) 378-2351
(Press conference audio files available here.)
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) misleads public on organic label
Failure to answer key questions puts program at risk
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Key stakeholders of the National Organic Program prepare to square off next week with the United States Department of Agriculture to hold the agency accountable for its lack of transparency. Consumers, farmers and certifiers need answers about what the USDA is and is not allowing when it comes to certifying certain products as organic. This public meeting is taking place in Washington DC on October 12-14
“It’s time for the agency to take a firm and unequivocal stance and be accountable to consumers,” said Dr. Urvashi Rangan an environmental health scientist with Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. “At stake is nothing less than the public’s trust in the organic food label.”
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) – a USDA advisory committee made up of scientists, farmers, certifiers, consumers and retailers – is expected to hold discussions with the USDA when it holds its bi-annual public meeting in Washington starting on Tuesday.
Last spring, the USDA issued four directives that would have seriously undermined the integrity of the organic label on produce, milk and fish. After three weeks of public pressure, the USDA Secretary Ann Veneman rescinded all of the directives. She assured the public that the USDA would ask its advisory committee, the NOSB, for input on the directives before any changes were made to the National Organic Program.
However, it is unclear if the USDA has truly withdrawn these directives or if the agency is quietly allowing them to be followed while it seeks comment. The USDA has failed to answer pointed questions about the status of the four directives asked by groups including CU, Union of Concerned Scientists, the Center for Food Safety, Humane Society of the U.S. and Rural Advancement Foundation International. The directives would allow: (1) farmers to use prohibited substances on crops as long as they could not determine the specific ingredients in a pesticide formulation; (2) fish to be sold with any organic claim while the USDA creates standards for fish; (3) non-organic fishmeal to be fed to livestock sold as organic; and (4) antibiotics or any other drug to be used in organic milk production.
“All of these actions would significantly undermine the integrity of the organic label and ultimately mislead the American public about the quality of the organic food they buy,” Rangan said.

Downloadable press conference audio file.
http://www.consumersunion.org/video/audio/organic1.mp3 in MP3 format, 6MB
http://www.consumersunion.org/video/audio/organic2.wav in WAV format, 48MB
Click here for more information about the organic label controversy.

# # #

Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, is an independent nonprofit testing, educational and information organization serving only the consumer. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health, nutrition and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public and protect consumers.