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Thanks to many activists who voiced their objections to Congress on September 20 and 21, a sneak attack on organic standards has been delayed.The Organic Food Production Act Amendment (OFPA)
On September 20 measures to weaken the OFPA were proposed as an amendment to an Agricultural Appropriations Bill that had already been passed by the House of Representatives as the bill came before the Senate. On September 21, the Senate substituted a "study amendment". The proposed amendment would change the law to allow the use of synthetic ingredients in food labeled organic and potentially weaken national organic dairy standards as well. As a study amendment, the Senate Committee on Agriculture has required that the Secretary of Agriculture deliver a report to Congress within 90 days on the impact of a recent court decision that upholds the standards for the organic industry. But this decision to study the issue is no guarantee the proposal is dead. Because the issue is now mentioned in the Senate version of the Appropriations Bill, it can be revived in the joint House-Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee and still make it into law.
Federal Court Decision Supports Organic Standards
At the heart of the matter is conflict within the Organic Trade Association (OTA), and between OTA and consumer, sustainable agriculture and environmental groups. The OTA has been a leading force in promoting organic cotton. Because the market for organic products is the fastest growing segment of the food industry, large corporations such as Kraft (owned by Phillip Morris), have been buying up many of the pioneering organic brands. Until now, the Organic Trade Association, advocating a weakening of the law, has declined to negotiate with public interest groups and its own members who oppose this amendment to weaken standards. Congress has asked the public interest community and the OTA to try to negotiate a resolution to this issue within a week (starting September 21).What Is the Threat Now?
Previous attempts to water down the national organic standards focused on individual product areas (chicken feed in Georgia, for example), and were rejected in bi-partisan action in Congress. The current move, however, represents a broad attack by some of the giant corporate players that have been moving into the lucrative organic market. The joint appropriations committee of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate may meet as early as the week of September 26, 2005, and could make a decision to change from studying the issue to changing the law.
Sources: Beyond Pesticides, http://www.beyondpesticides.org/organicfood/alerts/senateappropriations.htm, the Center for Food Safety, http://ga3.org/campaign/organic_standards, and the Organic Consumers Association, www.organicconsumers.org/sos.cfm.