Actions this week by federal USDA National Organic Program staff at the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in San Antonio, Texas prove without a doubt that some federal employees care more about imposing their power and making up small rules of authority than they do about the rule of law - or maintaining the high standards of organic integrity that American consumers have come to expect from organic food.
Just as the NOSB meeting was beginning Tuesday morning, a small group of activists gathered in front of the room to peacefully protest the USDA’s unilateral change of the “Sunset Provision”, which governs the removal of synthetic ingredients from organic production.
USDA staff responded by calling local San Antonio police. After 15 minutes of chanting "Don't change sunset!" the police arrested organic activist Alexis Baden-Mayer and carried her off in handcuffs for daring to stand up against the USDA's watering down of organic standards.
Click here to save organic integrity! Tell USDA Secretary Vilsack to reject the new corporate power grab over organic standards! It’s time to reverse the NOSB’s new rules that seek to weaken organic standards. Every voice counts!
Organic Tyranny At the USDA
This is what happens when you protest the watering down of organic standards and procedure in front USDA National Organic Program (NOP) staff in the Obama administration.
Activist and political director for the Organic Consumers Association Alexis Baden-Mayer is carried her off simply for believing that foods with the organic label should meet high standards of not having synthetic ingredients allowed like most people who buy organic food.
After local police removed Baden-Mayer from the room, the NOSB meeting started again with disruptions continuing as USDA National Organic Program (NOP) head Miles McEvoy illegally installed himself as “co-chair” of the NOSB meeting, which is being widely protested by the organic community as an illicit USDA power grab.
McEvoy’s chairmanship of the meeting was immediately challenged by NOSB board member and Beyond Pesticides Executive Director Jay Feldman, who called for a motion to debate the legitimacy of McEvoy’s taking over of the meeting. The motion was seconded and a vote was called, but was cut short by McEvoy who claimed that he needed to consult with government lawyers in DC.
The meeting then stalled for more than 20 minutes.
Just Who is USDA NOP head Miles McEvoy calling at USDA or White House as He Waters Down Organic Standards?
(@food_democracy) April 29, 2014
Ultimately, the meeting resumed, with McEvoy taking over the NOSB meeting as co-chair, where he lectured the audience on the NOSB’s role. According to McEvoy, the NOSB has only an “advisory” role governing organic standards and USDA staff sets all agenda items and makes all decisions.
The USDA's assertions that the agency can make unilateral changes of the Sunset Provisions and the democratic nature of NOSB/NOP process are at the crux of the vigorous debate in the organic community, being led by organic watchdogs Cornucopia, Organic Consumers Association, Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety and Food Democracy Now!.
In an important reminder of just how out of bounds Miles McEvoy and USDA staff’s current efforts to weaken organic standards are, the original authors of the 1990 Organic Food Production Act in Congress, Senator Patrick Leahy (Vermont) and Peter DeFazio (Oregon) wrote a joint letter last week to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to “reverse this policy”.
Regarding the unilateral changes to the Sunset Provision, Senator Leahy and Rep. DeFazio stated unequivocally that they “were extremely concerned by this significant and unwarranted policy change”, which were made “without the benefit of full notice and comment.”
Leahy and DeFazio went on to say that the USDA’s recent decisions run:
"counter to the key principals of public involvement and oversight in the organic certification process as well as adhering to the highest standards possible for organic food production."
This week's power grab by the USDA is one of the biggest assaults on the integrity of organic foods ever conceived, with high-level Obama political appointees working behind the scenes with giant corporate organics to gut 20 years of precedent in the congressionally-mandated National Organic Standards Board, a citizen oversight board.
Food Democracy Now! was at the NOSB meeting in Texas this week to remind the USDA that the organic label is more than just a label to many Americans. It is a way for those wanting to avoid pesticides, synthetics and GMOs to do so by eating organic. Therefore, it is important that the integrity of organic standards be maintained and protected.
Already more than 30,000 people have signed this letter to the USDA reminding them that the integrity of organic standards matter to millions of Americans, join us to get 50,000 signatures!
Take a stand for organic integrity! Tell Secretary Vilsack not to allow organic standards to be destroyed by corporate lobbyists. It means too much for mothers and farmers to allow our strong organic standards to be destroyed. Every voice counts.
Remember, democracy is like a muscle, either you use it or you lose it!
Thanks for participating in food democracy,
Dave, Lisa and the Food Democracy Now! team