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USDA responses on organic encouraging, but questions remain

October 19, 2004
Consumers Union Statement on the National Organic Program
Last week, at the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) public meeting in Washington DC, the USDA verbally “concurred” with three out of the four NOSB inputs on the directives issued by USDA concerning milk, produce and fishmeal. These directives were publicly rescinded by Secretary Ann Veneman last May but there was widespread concern among many groups, including CU, that the interpretations made in the directives remained as the standing policy of the USDA.
In “concurring” with the NOSB, CU expects that the USDA agrees that:
1. Antibiotics or other prohibited substances should not be allowed for use on the organic dairy farm.
2. Prohibited pesticide ingredients cannot be used on crops.
3. Any synthetics used in fishmeal (as a protein supplement for livestock) are prohibited unless reviewed by the NOSB and approved for organic production.
Consumers Union considers the responses from the USDA to be a positive step in the right direction. However, CU does not want to see USDA quietly revisiting these issues as they did this past summer which led to considerable confusion about the status of the directives. CU and others have asked the USDA to issue dated written responses and to post them on the National Organic Program website so that consumers, farmers and certifiers are very clear about USDA’s current interpretation of the organic standards.
While this is good news for the public and industry, there are some issues that still remain of concern:
1. Any non-USDA organic claim can be made on fish while the USDA establishes standards for aquaculture production.
2. Any non-USDA organic claim can be made on pet food while the USDA establishes standards for pet food.
3. Loose organic labeling on personal care products which do not meet the current labeling requirements for food.
CU’s advice to consumers is save your money and don’t buy organic fish, pet food or personal care products until the USDA provides additional standards.
The USDA has also announced that the first audit of the National Organic Program has been completed by the American National Standards Institute and will be released in mid-November. This audit will provide the public, farmers and certifiers with a report card of how well the USDA is managing the accreditation of certifiers and where improvement is needed.
Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D.
Consumer Policy Institute
Consumers Union
101 Truman Avenue
Yonkers, NY 10703