The Department of Agriculture’s withdrawal of an organic animal welfare rule and fraudulent organic imports were hot topics at Wednesday’s National Food Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. The conference, held by the Consumer Federation of America, is underwritten by some of the biggest food companies in the country, including Cargill, DowDuPont, General Mills, Walmart, and Tyson Foods.
For 15 years, USDA has allowed hydroponic crops to be sold as organic and, at a meeting this week in Jacksonville, Fla., the advisory National Organic Standards Board decided to let that practice continue. The board rejected, 8-7, a proposal to deny the USDA Organic label to hydoponics and aquaponics despite a long-running campaign to limit the label to plants grown in soil.
Francis Thicke, who owns a certified organic dairy farm in Iowa, is ending his five-year term on the National Organic Standards Board with criticism of the influence of “big business” on the USDA organic program and with support for an add-on organic label that “represents real organic food.”
Congress would double the USDA’s annual funding to oversee the booming organic agriculture sector and would provide an additional $5 million to prevent fraudulent organic imports under a bill filed by six U.S. representatives. An industry trade group said the bill would help the National Organic Program (NOP) keep pace with ever-increasing production and rapidly rising consumer demand for organics.
Miles McEvoy, deputy administrator for the National Organic Program at the USDA, said he was stepping down Sept. 30 after eight years in the position, and moving back to his home state of Washington while he considers new opportunities.
The USDA's National Organic Program said it revoked the certification of a Turkish company because it exported soybeans certified as "organic" to the United States that had been treated with pesticides. The action came after the Washington Post last month revealed that significant imports of both corn and soybeans had been labeled organic when they were not.
Millions of pounds of corn and soybeans imported to the United States in the past year were labeled “organic” but actually did not meet the requirements of the USDA label, according to The Washington Post.
Mammoth farms can illustrate “critical weaknesses in the unorthodox inspection system that the Agriculture Department uses to ensure that ‘organic’ food really is organic,” says a report by the Washington Post.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack hopes that new proposed organic regulations for animal welfare will be complete before President Obama leaves office in January, but isn't sure. “I’m hopeful that we get them done,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a report by Harvest Public Media. “I can’t guarantee that they’ll get done, but I’m hopeful they get done.”
The USDA "has quietly allowed a flood of hydroponically produced fruits and vegetables, largely imported, to be illegally labeled and sold as 'organic,'" says Cornucopia Institute in a complaint filed with the Agricultural Marketing Service, which oversees the organic food program. Cornucopia acted ahead of a meeting of the National Organic Standards Board, on Nov. 16-18, where the USDA advisory board may vote on whether hydroponic crops may be labeled as organic.