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USDA Attempts to Pack Organic Standards Board With Corporate Agribusiness Reps: Organic Consumers Fight Hijacked Seats on NOSB

Organic Consumers Association | December 7, 2006

USDA ATTEMPTS TO PACK ORGANIC STANDARDS BOARD WITH CORPORATE AGRIBUSINESS REPS

Organic Consumers Fight Hijacked Seats on NOSB

WASHINGTON, DC - On December 5, 2006, the USDA announced its new appointments to  the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The NOSB essentially advises the USDA on how to interpret and implement federal organic laws that regulate industry. The NOSB also reviews and approves substances for placement on the National List of Approved and Prohibited Substances. In other words, the NOSB has the ability to significantly weaken or strengthen the effectiveness of the national organic standards.

According to federal law, the NOSB is to be made up of a diverse group of experts in the organic field, including a public interest group representative, an environmentalist, a scientist, and a handler. Despite this clear mandate of diversity, the USDA's new appointments are all industry representatives.

USDA's new appointees are:

Scientist : Katrina Heinze (General Mills)
Consumer and Public Interest Group Representative : Tracy Miedema (Stahlbush Island Farms, a primarily non-organic operation)
Environmentalist : Tina Ellor (Phillips Mushroom Farms)
Handler : Steve DeMuri (Campbell Soup)

Historically, there has only been one other instance where the USDA has attempted to stack non-industry seats on the NOSB with industry representatives, and the results were an embarrassment for the USDA. One year ago, the agency attempted to put a General Mills' company representative, Katrina Heinz in the NOSB Public Interest Group Representative seat, which was closely followed by a massive consumer backlash spearheaded by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and the Consumers Union. The protests caused Heinz to decline the appointment.

“Never before has the Bush administration's USDA made such a blatant attempt to pack the National Organic Standards Board with people who represent corporate agribusiness and industrial farming practices,” says OCA National Director Ronnie Cummins.  “Stahlbush Farms, which admits on its website to using pesticides, fungicides, and insecticides on its crops (except for its canned pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and frozen green beans) is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an organic consumer or public interest group.  Likewise, General Mills is not an academic institution, qualified to submit an impartial "scientist" to serve on the NOSB.” -more on next page-

  Less than a year ago the organic community was forced to mobilize against a sneak attack on organic standards inserted into the 2006 Agriculture Appropriations bill, supported by General Mill's and Campbell Soup and other corporate agribusiness players that have apparently decided they want to take over the $16 billion organic industry.

OCA is mobilizing its national grassroots action network of 500,000 organic consumers to stop this attempted hijacking of organic standards..  OCA strongly believes that Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns should intervene to ensure that the NOSB is composed of organic specialists, bona fide scientists, and representatives of consumer and public interest groups, as mandated by the Organic Foods Production Act. “We will be asking our members to call General Mills, Campbell Soup, and Stahlbush Farms and request that the appointees from their company decline appointment, in the best interest of the organic sector,” added Cummins.

OCA will also target members of Congress and ask for a Congressional hearing on the USDA's management of the National Organic Program and their numerous attempts to ignore OFPA and undermine the will of Congress. 

According to Cummins, "A major part of the problem is the arrogance and lack of transparency on the part of the Bush USDA. The entire organic community has a basic right to know well ahead of time who all the nominees are for the NOSB, so we can examine their record and credentials. Then the USDA needs to listen carefully to all of the stakeholders in the community and base its decision on NOSB appointments accordingly."

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