Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Will Organic Food Get Further Legal Protection From Contamination?

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, and Rep. Richard Hanna of New York on Tuesday introduced bipartisan legislation, the Organic Standards Protection Act, to ensure that products bearing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic seal comply with the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.

The legislation, endorsed by a variety of California agriculture and consumer groups, would protect the growing organic farming industry and its expanding consumer base by granting the USDA’s National Organic Program the legislative authority it needs to more effectively protect the integrity of certified organic products.

According to a report by the Organic Trade Association, the U.S. organic market in 2011 surpassed $31 billion for the first time, representing 9.5 percent growth. The organic food industry also generated more than 500,000 American jobs in 2010. The Central Coast ranked second in California in 2009 organic farm sales, generating more than $224 million in revenue. The 23rd District of California ranks 30th nationally in the number of organic farms.

“This bipartisan legislation is a win-win, for Central Coast farmers and businesses who consistently meet the highest standards for organic products and for consumers who deserve to know that all products on grocery store shelves labeled ‘USDA organic’ adhere to consistently high standards,” Capps said. “Failing to weed out imposter products puts our organic industries at a competitive disadvantage and could potentially damage the brand of organic products.”

“Organic farming is a growing industry in upstate New York, which is creating jobs and meeting an increasing consumer demand,” Hanna said. “This bill takes commonsense steps to make sure USDA has the tools necessary to protect the integrity of the organic seal and safeguard this booming industry from unscrupulous producers.”

“The Organic Trade Association supports the passage of the Organic Standards Protection Act which, if enacted, will give the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Organic Program additional tools to safeguard the integrity of the USDA Organic seal,” said Christine Bushway, CEO of the Organic Trade Association. “Consumers drive the growth in organic food and farming and maintaining their trust is critical to the future of this fast-growing job-creating sector of agriculture. On behalf of the 6,500 certified organic operations nationwide that OTA represents, we applaud the leadership of Congresswoman Capps to position organic to meet consumer expectations into the future.”

“CCOF supports the Organic Standards Protection Act to further ensure consumer confidence in high-quality organic products,” said Cathy Calfo, executive director/CEO of the California Certified Organic Farmers. “Our members include 2400 organic farmers, ranchers, processors and handlers whose competitiveness relies on a strong regulatory framework that is fairly enforced.”

According to a recent USDA Office of Inspector General report, the absence of investigative authorities has hampered the National Organic Program’s ability to protect the integrity of the organic label. Currently, the NOP does not have the authority to stop the representation, labeling or sale of organic products when they have been treated with prohibited substances or when conventional products are being sold as organic. Embargo and stop sale authority would provide the NOP with additional tools to protect the integrity of organic food products.

The Organic Standards Protection Act would provide the USDA with the authority to stop sale of unlawfully represented products, and would enhance the effectiveness of investigations while providing for appeal of the secretary’s actions. The bill would also provide penalties for refusal to obey a conclusive judgment.

The bill would:
Grant USDA the authority to stop the sale of products fraudulently labeled and sold as certified organic while protecting the rights of producers and handlers during the appeals process.

Streamline recordkeeping requirements by requiring all organic producers and certifiers to maintain and provide records to the USDA to improve its investigative process and enforcement efforts.

Impose a civil penalty of $10,000 on those who violate the USDA’s revocation of their certification.

The legislation is supported by the California Certified Organic Farmers, the Organic Trade Association and the National Organic Coalition. - Ashley Schapitl, Noozhawk

The Organic Food Production Act
The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990 (Title 21 of P.L. 101-624, the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990) authorizes a National Organic Program (NOP) to be administered by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). The program will be based on federal regulations that define standard organic farming practices and on a National List of acceptable organic production inputs. Private and state certifiers will visit producers, processors, and handlers to certify' that their operations abide by the standards. Once certified, these operations may affix a label on their product stating that it "Meets USDA Organic Requirements." It will be illegal for anyone to use the word "organic" on a product if it does not meet the standards set in the law and regulations. The regulations under the OFPA are intended to set uniform minimum standards for organic production. However, states may adopt additional requirements after review and approval by USDA. AMS will re-accredit certifying agents every 5 years, maintain federal oversight to assure truth in labeling, and provide assurance that imported organic products have been produced under standards that are equivalent to the U.S. standards.

The act called for the establishment of a 15-member National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to "assist in the development of standards for substances to be used in organic production" (i.e., the National List) and to "provide recommendations to the Secretary regarding implementation" of the act. Congress expected implementation to be complete and the program in operation by October 1, 1993. However, the Board was hampered at the beginning by a lack of funds, among other factors. Neither departmental nor appropriated funds were available in FY1991; in FY1992 and FY1993, USDA made $120,000 available under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Beginning in FY1994, Congress appropriated funds for AMS's National Organic Program activities at about $500,000 annually. The FY1999 Administration budget requests slightly more than $1 million to assist the implementation of the new program. The OFPA stipulates that the costs of the program, once fully operational, will be paid for entirely by fees collected from producers, certifying agents, and handlers.

During the period from June 1994 to September 1996, the NOSB submitted its recommendations for national standards and the National List to USDA's National Organic Program staff. The staff drafted the proposed rule based on the Board's recommendations but not in complete conformity with them. The proposed rule appeared in the Federal Register on December 16, 1997. Because of the heavy response to the proposal, USDA extended the comment period from mid-March through the end of April 1998. - Organic Trade Association

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