November 28, 2011
Organic Consumers Association
Honor Schauland and Ronnie Cummins
November 28, 2011

For related articles and more information please visit OCA's Safeguard our Standards Campaign page and an interesting series of articles by Mark Keating from Cooking Up a Story, reposted here, here and here.

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is holding its twice-yearly standards-setting meeting in Savannah, GA, this week. Organic Consumers Association political director Alexis Baden-Mayer will be speaking at the meeting on behalf of our 300,000 active members and we need you to back up her testimony with letters to the NOSB on the topics that are most important to you. Click here to take action

Over the last twelve years the OCA and the organic community have been forced to organize a series of national campaigns to safeguard organic standards. While the OCA and our allies have basically been able to prevent the standards from being significantly watered down, constant vigilance and mobilization have been necessary.

1998 – The Organic Consumers Association forms in the wake of our successful campaign, SOS (Save Organic Standards) to stop the USDA from allowing GMOs, irradiation, and sewage sludge in organic production. Arising out of this campaign OCA is able to build a mass circulation website, newsletter, and nationwide consumer network.

October 2002 – National Organic Program (NOP) standards implemented.

February 2003 – A Capitol Hill backroom deal puts a major dent in the organic standards when, with no prior notice, a major industrial poultry production corporation arranges to have a few sentences inserted into a 3,000 page appropriations bill that exempts producers from the organic feed requirement if the cost exceeds twice the conventional price. After extensive media coverage and a successful campaign by OCA and our allies, to pressure Congress, the rider is removed and the organic feed requirement restored.

April 2004 – The NOP issues what it calls "guidance" and "directives" related to antibiotics in dairy production, livestock feed ingredients and allowable inert materials in pesticides. These policy interpretations are drawn up without input from the organic community and are seen as seriously degrading the standards. If implemented, they would allow a host of new synthetic materials into organic production without review and facilitate the recycling of dairy animals between organic and conventional operations. In the wake of a pressure campaign spearheaded by the OCA, Ag Secretary Veneman calls a meeting and announces that the guidance and directives have been suspended.

June 2005 – Fallout from the legal challenge to the NOP by Maine blueberry farmer Arthur Harvey turns the standards upside down once more and splits the organic community like nothing before. The court ruling declares there are technical inconsistencies between the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), passed as part of the 1990 U.S. Farm Bill, and the NOP standards, implemented in 2002. The ruling would prevent the use of 38 synthetic materials (such baking powder, pectin and Vitamin C) in post-harvest handling and processing that had previously been approved by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). US Congress steps in and amends the OFPA to retain the national organic regulations implemented in October 2002. Under these standards no new synthetic substances may be allowed in organic production without the review and approval of NOSB, and synthetics originally approved by the NOSB are all supposed to be "sunsetted" after five years, and then re-reviewed.

August 2005 – OCA steps up the pressure in our Coming Clean campaign to eliminate organic labeling fraud in the body care and cosmetics sector.  A lawsuit filed by OCA and Dr. Bronner's Soaps shakes up the USDA so much that the agency partly gives in to OCA's demands and allows the "USDA Organic" seal to be displayed on certified organic body care and other nonfood products.

October 2006 – Multinational food manufacturers pressure Congress to pass an amendment to the 2006 Agricultural Appropriations Bill that undermines organic standards by allowing hundreds of non-organic "food processing aids" and "food contact substances" in organic food. After a massive mobilization led by the by OCA, Congress is deluged with 350,000 email letters and calls. Unfortunately the House/Senate Conference committee ignores consumer objections and approves the rider, requiring OCA to fight a  continuing battle against problematic food contact substances (such as BPA liners in cans) and processing chemicals.

August 2009 – The NOSB passes a recommendation for "Solving the Problem of Mislabeled Organic Personal Care Products." The recommendation urges the NOP to make sure that any use of the word "organic" on a personal care product is backed up by third-party certification to USDA organic standards. The OCA sees this recommendation as a preliminary victory for its campaign to rid store shelves of products that are falsely advertised as "organic."

February 2010 – The USDA rules on Access to Pasture organic certification requirements for all organic livestock producers. National organic standards were designed to ensure that pasture and ruminant animals received adequate access to pasture grass, the primary food their bodies are designed to consume. Unfortunately, the previous requirements were interpreted by industrial-scale dairy operators (Horizon and Aurora) in ways that clearly undermined the ability of these animals to receive the necessary amounts of outside access to pasture. These new rules directly address those earlier deficiencies. The Pasture Rule becomes law on June 17, 2010. Existing operations will have to be in compliance by June 17, 2011. New operations certified after June 17, 2010 must be in compliance before certification. Animals must graze pasture during the grazing season, which must be at least 120 days per year and obtain a minimum of 30 percent dry matter intake from grazing over the course of the grazing season. The Pasture Rule is a major victory for the OCA and allies who have been campaigning against "organic factory farms."

October 2010 – In 2010, the biggest attacks organic standards came from the following companies:

Cal-Maine Foods (the nation's largest egg producer) is keeping so-called organic chickens in intensive-confinement factory farms and feed them synthetic supplements like methionine. Please take action on this ongoing problem.

General Mills (the world's sixth-largest food company) wants to introduce dangerous, untested, unlabeled products of nanotechnology in organic products and packaging. The OCA and our allies won a partial victory in October 2010 when the NOSB passed a resolution to prohibit nanotechnology in organic "as expeditiously as possible." Ask the USDA NOP to follow through by updating the regulations to explicitly exclude nanotechnology.

Coleman Organic (part of the ConAgra conglomerate, the 3rd largest U.S. beef and pork processor) is using non-organic animal ingredients (pork intestines) in "USDA Organic" products (sausage). Please take action on this ongoing problem.

Renpure Organics (subsidiary of Bristol-Myers Squibb, owner of Clairol) is using the word "organic" on products that aren't certified to USDA organic standards (shampoo). The OCA and our allies won a partial victory in 2009 when the NOSB passed a resolution to prohibit nanotechnology in organic "as expeditiously as possible." Ask the USDA NOP to follow through by enforcing the organic law against fraudulent organic cosmetics as they do against false organic claims on food.

Organic Vintners wants to use synthetic ingredients (sulfite preservatives) in USDA Organic products (wine). Please take action on this ongoing problem.

Current SOS work – OCA continues to fight for strict organic standards. We are leading the charge in a movement to go beyond the existing standards and tighten up remaining loopholes in order to maintain the integrity of the organic label. The organic dairy regulations banning feedlots and requiring mandatory pasturing of cows are a good start, but we need to apply similar standards to poultry, egg and pork production. We need an independent NOP Peer Review Board. And we need a number of currently allowed non-organic substances or inputs to be prohibited in organic products, as there are now organic options available. Over the next decade it will take constant vigilance and mobilization on the part of consumers, natural food stores, and farmers to uphold organic standards and prevent a takeover of the organic industry by corporate agribusiness.