Natural Foods Merchandiser

USDA Rescinds Changes to Organic Rule

Citing a "tremendous amount of interest ? and concern," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman has rescinded recent federal decisions that industry groups believe jeopardized the organic label.

On May 26, Veneman overturned four April 13 directives from the U.S. Agricultural Marketing Service, which oversees the National Organic Program. The overturned directives were:

  • Banning the U.S. Department of Agriculture's organic seal from personal care products, cosmetics, dietary supplements, fertilizers and soil amendments, fish and seafood, and pet foods
  • Allowing the use of pesticides with inert chemical ingredients
  • OK'ing non-certified fish as livestock feed
  • Organically certifying milk from cows treated with antibiotics, provided the animals didn't receive antibiotics in the last year

The directives raised outcry from various industry groups ranging from the Organic Trade Association to the American Herbal Products Association. Organics advocate Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., circulated a letter to his colleagues expressing concern about AMS' "unilateral fiats, which may violate the letter of the law. They certainly violate its spirit."

The main concern was that the directives were issued without public input and involvement of industry representatives and National Organic Standards Board members, setting what the OTA called "a dangerous precedent" in implementing NOP changes. Federal law calls for NOSB input on new NOP rules, but AMS officials said the directives were simply defining existing regulations, rather than making new rules.

In her May 26 statement, Veneman said, "I think that it's important to recognize that we're acting in good faith trying to clarify some of the issues that were coming out of the actual implementation of [NOP]. But because there is so much concern about it, I have directed the [AMS] to withdraw [the directives] and now to work with the [NOSB] and the industry to determine the best solutions to the issues that have been raised."

OTA Executive Director Katherine DiMatteo called Veneman's decision "a giant step forward" in NOP implementation.

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