After years of lobbying by organic farmers, the Agriculture Department tightened its rules on how dairy animals — cattle, goats and sheep — enter organic production, in the name of fairness to farmers and consumers. The new “origin of livestock” rule would end the practice of cycling dairy …
One of the last of the "Watergate babies" elected to Congress in 1974, Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy said on Monday he will retire next year after eight terms in the Senate that included stints as chairman of its Appropriations, Agriculture and Judiciary committees. Leahy shepherded passage of the national organic standards law in 1990 and oversaw expansion of SNAP and the school lunch program.
A series of four workshops beginning on Oct. 27 will focus on the future of organic production in the United States, said the Organic Trade Association and the Swette Center at Arizona State University on Wednesday. "We need everyone seated at the table to successfully plot the next 30 years of organic," said Swette Center director Kathleen Merrigan.
It's not well known, but organic farmers – like their conventional farming neighbors – depend on plastic to grow a lot of produce. "It's spread over the ground as a form of mulch to suppress weeds, conserve water and aid plant growth," reports Lisa Elaine Held in FERN's latest story, produced in collaboration with NPR's The Salt.
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.
A USDA task force set out to determine in September 2015 whether fruit and vegetables are ‘organic’ if they’re grown in a medium other than soil. More than 10 months later, they issued a report that is “anything but conclusive,” writes Civil Eats.
Thanks to seemingly unquenchable consumer demand, the U.S. organic industry tallied sales of $43.3 billion in 2015, up 11 percent from the previous year and the latest in a string of records.
For years, organic food has been the fastest-growing segment of U.S. agriculture, with a sales total of nearly $36 billion a year at latest count. "A deepening divide" is splitting the industry and "sparking litigation and allegations that the well-known label marking foods as organic no longer assures consumers that foods are free from chemicals and other materials, or that organic meat was raised naturally," says Huffington Post.
After years of development, the USDA proposed stronger housing and welfare rules for organic livestock that include group housing for swine and year-round access for poultry to the outdoors.