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Alert: Stop USDA from Stacking Federal Organic Standards Board with Industry Reps
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 consumer and 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 Farms: a primarily non-organic operation)
Environmentalist: Tina Ellor (Phillips Mushroom Farms)
Handler: Steve DeMuri (Campbells 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 representative 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 the USDA consumer rep appointee (Katrina Heinze) to resign.
In response to the USDA's recent appointment of industry representatives to the NOSB, the OCA is calling for similar actions from concerned citizens. "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 pumpkins, sweet potatoes and 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."
General Mills' long history of aggressively fighting against the labeling of genetically engineered foods makes that seat appointment of particular concern to organic advocates.
Tell Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns and members of Congress they 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.