Thousands mobilize to stop 'Sneak Attack' on Organic Standards

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WASHINGTON, D.C.—As Congress finalizes the wording on the 2006 Agricultural Appropriations bill in the House/Senate Conference Committee, thousands of consumers are mobilizing in the U.S. to stop an industry-sponsored “Sneak Attack” on Organic Standards contained in a rider to the bill. Over the past week, members of the Organic Consumers Association have bombarded Congress with more than 54,000 e-mails and 10,000 phone calls, heading off passage of the Sneak Attack rider in the U.S. Senate.

The Sneak Attack rider would lower organic standards by allowing Bush administration appointees in the USDA National Organic Program to approve hundreds of synthetic ingredients and processing aids in organic foods. Even worse, these proposed regulatory changes would reduce future public discussion and input and undermine the National Organic Standards Board’s (NOSB) traditional lead jurisdiction in monitoring standards and controlling what substances are allowed on the “National List” of approved ingredients. What this means, in blunt terms, is that USDA bureaucrats and industry lobbyists, not consumers, would have near-total control over what can go into processed organic foods and products. In a June 2005 poll by the Consumers Union, 85 percent of American consumers expressed opposition to allowing synthetic ingredients in organic products.

Newly emerging organic industry giants such as Dean Foods/Horizon, Whole Foods Market, Wild Oats, Kraft, Dole, Aurora, Smucker and General Mills seek a streamlined “expedited” approach to modifying organic standards and inclusion of synthetic substances in processed organic foods in order to meet the booming public demand for organics, now a $15 billion industry. Industry leaders from the Organic Trade Association claim a rider is necessary to counter the impact of a federal court decision in June 2005 that banned the use of synthetic ingredients in organic foods and the feeding of non-organic feed to dairy cows in transition to organic. Consumer groups such as the Organic Consumers Association, however, joined by a broad coalition of sustainable agriculture and public interest groups, have vocally opposed these moves by industry, pointing out that traditional rulemaking, broad and transparent public comment, and strict monitoring of organic structures and synthetic substances by the organic community and the National Organic Standards Board are necessary to preserve organic integrity and consumer faith in the “USDA Organic” label.

“After 35 years of hard work, the U.S. organic community has built up a multi-billion-dollar alternative to industrial agriculture, based upon strict organic standards and organic community control over modification to these standards. Now a group of large organic processors and natural food chains, some with freshly-painted organic facades, are moving to lower federal standards and eliminate traditional community participation in setting standards. For the sake of the health of all Americans, we must stop this sneak attack by industry and preserve strict organic standards,” stated Ronnie Cummins, co-founder and national director of the Organic Consumers Association.

From the Oct. 12-18, 2005, issue

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