Department of Agriculture tries again with national organic standard

Last time the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed a national organic standard it was shocked by the level of negative response from organic consumers and farmers. Now, it has issued a new, tougher proposed standard.

Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman presented the USDA’s latest proposal on 7 March arguing that “this is the most comprehensive and strongest organic standard in the world”.

Glickman said that the proposed standard includes:

  • clear labelling criteria
  • prohibition on the use of genetically-modified organisms, sewage sludge, irradiation and antibiotics in livestock

“We listened to consumers and organic farmers and closely followed the recommendations of the National Organic Standards Board to develop a national organic standard that is better than our original proposal,” said Glickman, alluding to the disaster that followed the USDA’s earlier proposal. The first proposal for a national organic standard was so poorly drafted that opponents argued that it would have allowed almost anything to qualify as organic food, including crude oil. Consumer and organic industry response to the first proposal was so negative that the USDA abandoned it and pledged to issue another proposal.

The USDA also states that this latest proposed organic standard will help US organic farmers and manufacturers improve their exporting prospects. “The US having an organic standard doesn’t necessarily mean that trade will be easier – but it may,” Rod Hardy of the UK Soil Association’s international certification department told edie. “There are some very good [independent] certifiers in the US – it’s lucky that they have been there. They’ve had a very difficult role to play.”

Thus far, exports of US organic foods have succeeded thanks to the work of independent certifiers, which have sought to meet European or other international organic standards. “It is important that there is legislation on this, but there is also the danger that you’re taking power away from the groups that have the experience and handing it over to bureaucracy,” says Hardy.

While Hardy believes that the USDA is a good one for the long-term prospects of the US organic industry, he is less happy about Japan’s draft organic standard. According to Hardy, Japan has left some loopholes that may allow food containing genetically-modified organisms (GMO) to qualify as organic. Of course, such loopholes will make it very difficult for Japanese organic foods to be exported to Europe and other areas unless they also gain certification that they are GMO-free.

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