Organic Community Celebrates Too Soon

USDA still undermining organic integrity

The accolades in the press after USDA Secretary Ann Veneman withdrew a series of highly controversial guidance documents proved to be short-lived. The documents, prepared by the National Organic Program (NOP), would have allowed antibiotic use on organic dairy farms, pesticides with unspecified toxic ingredients, and the uncertified sale of organic pet food and textile products, among other practices.

Consumers Union, the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, the Organic Consumers Association, and The Cornucopia Institute, all aggressively mobilized organic farmers and consumers to appeal to Secretary Veneman to overrule the NOP. And it worked. However, “It looks like we won the battle but have lost the war—so far,” said Will Fantle, research director for the Cornucopia Institute. “We’re right back to where we were before the guidance documents were issued.” USDA officials , including Barber Robinson who oversees the NOP, have been quoted as saying that they had it right and that the brouhaha was caused by bad “communication.” The guidance documents are currently being interpreted as “unwritten” law.

“This looks like a cynical attempt by Bush’s agriculture secretary to deflect criticism of the USDA during an election year,” said Ronnie Cummins, Director of the Organic Consumers Association. “If you interpret the doubletalk, all the objectionable practices that the USDA was letting corporations and factory farms get away with are still being allowed. By all appearances, withdrawing the guidance documents was disingenuous and didn’t substantively change anything!”

See other articles from this issue: #114 September - October - 2004