Monday, March 22, 2010

USDA vows to improve organic program after audit finds serious problems

The U.S. Department of Agriculture vowed Friday to begin enforcing organic farming regulations after an auditor exposed major gaps in federal oversight of the industry. Among other things, USDA promised to begin enforcing rules requiring the spot testing of organically grown foods for traces of pesticides, William Neuman of The New York Times reports. Spot testing is required by the 1990 law that established the basis for national organic standards, but a report by the department's inspector general revealed regulators never made sure the testing was being carried out.

The report also found several other shortcomings in USDA's National Organic Program, including including poor oversight of some organic operations overseas and a lack of urgency in cracking down on marketers of bogus "organic" products, Neuman reports. Miles McEvoy, head of the program, said it would "require unannounced inspections of organic producers and processors and start regular reviews of organic products in stores to make sure they are correctly labeled and meet federal regulations," Neuman writes. (Read more)

New federal rules scheduled to go into effect in June will also require cows providing certified organic milk to have access to a guaranteed 120 days of pasture grazing. USDA currently only requires that organically raised livestock have access to pasture, Monte Whaley of The Denver Post reports. Emily Prisco, the director of farm resources for Aurora Organic Dairy of Platteville, Colo., told Whaley most farms could follow the new rules, but some might struggle with added recordkeeping. "They might force some of the smaller ones out," she said. "But if a company is not managed well, they probably shouldn't be in the business." (Read more)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

To the Editor,

The lack of balance in this story is astounding. It profiled Aurora Dairy and it's enthusiastic reception to new tough regulations from the USDA providing strict benchmarks to assure organic cattle are grazed as the law requires.

What the story missed was part of the genesis for the new rulemaking in Washington -- scofflaws like Aurora, with five factory farms in Texas and Colorado, gaming the system and placing family-scale farmers a competitive disadvantage.

The USDA had found that Aurora had "willfully" violated 14 tenets of the organic regulations including failure to pasture their animals and illegally bringing conventional cattle into their operation.

Additionally one of the other sources quoted in your story, the Colorado Department of Agriculture, was also criticized and sanctioned by the USDA in the scandal.

Furthermore, the reporter missed the fact that although Aurora is now applauding these regulations the corporate dairy was the most overt organization lobbying against their adoption.

Finally, although their "spin" is positive these regulations will put a real crimp on their production -- causing their costs to increase and possibly making their products (private-label organic milk sold at Wal-Mart, Costco and other national chains) less able to undermine ethical competitors in the marketplace.

Mark A. Kastel
Senior Farm Policy Analyst
The Cornucopia Institute