You may want to put your fork down for this one. On August 5, 2008 the division of the USDA Department of Agriculture National Organic Program (NOP) governing Organic foods made an announcement “that 15 of the 30 accredited organic certifiers they recently inspected failed the USDA audit. It is clear that there are numerous violations of organic standards taking place in the U.S. and across the world” says Ronnie Cummins National Director of Organic Consumers Association.”
For those of you who are not familiar with the “engine” that runs the organic industry, allow me to provide a little history. In 1990 the Natural Organic Program was established as the “The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990”; as part of the Farm Bill a 15 member National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The board comprised four farmers/growers, two handlers/processors, one retailer, one scientist, three consumer/public interest advocates, three environmentalists, and one USDA accredited certifying agent. Members come from all four U.S. regions.
In the last 40 years the organic community in the USA has evolved into a “multi-billion dollar alternative to energy and chemical-intensive industrial agriculture.” With the invasion of so called “organic corporations” as well as foreign importers, a number of practices have developed that not only violate “the spirit of organic integrity, but allow bogus, at times toxic, “organic” imports from foreign countries to degrade the “USDA Organic” label.”
In a recent audit by the USDA, violations were cited in relation to a French-based organic certifier, Ecocert, along with other certifiers. Quality Assurance International (QAI), North America’s largest “for profit” organic certifier, has recently come under fire by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). A recent article cites QAI ‘s “loose” interpretation of standards allowing companies to “bend if not break the rules”.
Mark Kastel, cofounder of the Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based organic watchdog group, dubbed QAI the “corporate certifier of convenience for it’s propensity to certify most of the suspect large scale dairy operations that his organization is monitoring.” According to Kastel:
“…many of these “factory farms which supply milk to Horizon (owned by Dean Foods) and Aurora Dairy (which markets under Woodstock Farms Brand) are skirting the rules by confining thousands of cows in feedlot-like conditions with minimal time grazing on pasture.”
QAI, Horizon and Aurora have responded that their interpretation of the Law is that cows must have access to pasture while ignoring the other rules that state that livestock living conditions must ”accommodate the health and natural behavior of animals which does not include being confined to a pen and feeding from a trough.” But the folks in Missouri were not buying it.
Several class action lawsuits have been consolidated into one suit against Aurora Organic Dairy Corp.; which is being accused of producing and selling “bogus organic milk” that fails the Federal Standards in Aurora Dairy Corp Milk, No. 4:08MD01907 (E.D.Mo.).
“I know that the consumers went to great lengths to create and protect the organic label, and that’s what we’re trying to do now — is to protect the integrity of the label,” said David G. Cox of Lane, Alton & Horst in Columbus, Ohio, who is one of several plaintiffs lawyers involved in the milk class action”
As required by Law in the “National Organic Standards” USDA has called upon OCA and the organic community to implement a “Peer Review Panel” system, so that members of the organic community can police and organic standards on the part of producers, importers, and certifiers and report violations.
“As the USDA has admitted, “The National Organic Standards call for the Administrator of AMS (USDA Agricultural Marketing Service) to appoint members of a Peer Review Panel to evaluate the NOP’s adherence to its accreditation procedures and its accreditation decisions.” It’s time for the USDA to stop dragging their heels and begin the public process to set up an organic community “Peer Review Panel, so organic standards can be properly enforced.
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