The U.S. Department of Agriculture appointed four new members to five-year terms on the National Organic Standards Board, beginning Jan. 24.
The new members are Tracy Miedema, consumer/public interest member; Tina Ellor, environmentalist member; Steve DeMuri, handler member; and Katrina Heinze, scientist member.
Miedema is national sales and marketing manager of Stahlbush Farms in Corvallis, Ore. She has served as an ad?junct professor in consumer behavior at Western Washington University and created an organic learning center for retailers and stakeholders within Small Planet Foods. Ellor is the technical director of Kennett Square, Pa.-based Phillips Mushroom Farms and has been active in small farm and rural development in Pennsylvania. DeMuri, senior manager for commercialization and improvement for Campbell Soup Co. in California, is the company's technical expert and manager of its organic production. Heinze has a doctorate degree in chemistry and is the manager of global regulatory affairs for General Mills, responsible for food safety and regulatory matters.
The NOSB has 15 members representing different sectors and interest groups involved in organic producing, handling and consuming (four producers, two handlers, one retailer, three environ?mentalists, three consumers, one scientist and one certifying agent).
The new appointments caused a backlash from the Organic Consumers Association. In a release, Ronnie Cummins, national director of the OCA, said, "Never before has the Bush administration's USDA made such a blatant attempt to pack the [NOSB] with people who represent corporate agribusiness and industrial farming practices. Stahlbush Farms, which admits on its Web site to using pesticides, fungicides and insecticides on its crops (except for its canned pumpkins, sweet potatoes and frozen 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."
Jim Riddle, former chairman of the NOSB, said that of the 40 people nominated, there were numerous scientists and public interest group representatives to choose from, and that there is cause for concern when the overall membership of the board is considered. "Certain seats on the board are consumer and environmental seats, and they aren't filled with people who are consumers, representatives from public interest groups or environmental organizations," he said. "It's by far the most corporate representatives that we've ever had when looking at the composition of the entire board."
Cummins said his group did not nominate anyone for a slot. "It appears to us that the attitude of these people is that they hate us ... that this is a trap. This cannot be cleared up by a token member of OCA or Consumer's Union on the board," he said. "This NOSB, who we are depending on to be a watchdog, is slowly but surely turning into a lapdog."
According to Riddle, "[USDA's] criteria are being bent as far as they can be bent to have certain interests represented, it appears, at the exclusion of some of the interests created by Congress to be represented at the table."
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 1/p. 31