Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Captain Anti-Planet is at it again! According to this Alternet article, the U.S.D.A. issued new guidances, and one directive, which seem to render useless the "Organic" food label.
And the changes – which would allow the use of antibiotics on organic dairy cows, synthetic pesticides on organic farms, and more – were made with zero input from the public or the National Organic Standards Board, the advisory group that worked for more than a decade to help craft the first federal organic standards, put in place in October 2002.

The USDA insists that the changes are innocuous: "The directives have not changed anything. They are just clarifications of what is in the regulations that were written by the National Organic Standards Board," USDA spokesperson Joan Shaffer told Muckraker. "They just explain what's enforceable. There is no difference [between the clarifications and the original regulations] – it's just another way of explaining it."

But Jim Riddle, vice chair of the NOSB and endowed chair in agricultural systems at the University of Minnesota, argues that what the USDA is trying to pass off as a clarification of regulations is actually a substantial change: "These are the sorts of changes for which the department is supposed to do a formal new rulemaking process, with posting in the federal register, feedback from our advisory board, and a public-comment period. And yet there is no such process denoted anywhere."

One practice favored by large agribusiness is the use of antibiotics on cows, and a guidance [PDF] issued on April 14 will allow just that on organic dairy farms, a dramatic reversal of 2002 rules. Under the new guidelines, sickly dairy cows can be treated not just with antibiotics but with numerous others drugs and still have their milk qualify as organic, so long as 12 months pass between the time the treatments are administered and the time the milk is sold.

Another new guidance [PDF]put out on the same day would allow cattle farmers to feed their heifers non-organic fishmeal that could be riddled with synthetic preservatives, mercury, and PCBs and still sell their beef as organic.

And the following week, on April 23, the USDA took the particularly egregious step of issuing a legal directive [PDF] that opens the door for use of some synthetic pesticides on organic farms.

According to the new guidelines, however, organic farmers and certifiers are only required to make a "reasonable effort" to find out what is in the pesticides being applied to crops. "If they can't come up with the info on toxic inert ingredients that may be in their pesticides, they're off the hook" said Liana Hoodes, organic policy coordinator for the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture. "This takes all the pressure off of pesticide manufacturers to reveal their ingredients and develop non-toxic products. In fact, it creates a disincentive."

Despite the USDA's demurrals, activists view the department's changes as a serious threat to hard-won standards for organic products. The National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture and other groups are investigating possible industry influence into the USDA's process, and some environmental groups are preparing to take legal action.
Personally, I think this is disgusting. I buy a lot of organic products specifically BECAUSE they are supposed to be free of chemical fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, bovine growth hormone, etc. These new "guidelines" undermine the public's right to choose more natural alternatives to conventional products. Under these rules, the only way to assure you're getting truly "organic" products is to grow and raise them yourself! If you would like to express your disapproval of the new guidelines, feel free to email Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman at Ann.Veneman@usda.gov or call her office at 202-720-3631.