USDA proposed organic standards need revision

June 5, 2000

Keith Jones, Program Manager, National Organic Program
Room 2945-So., Ag Stop 0275
P.O. Box 96456
Washington D.C. 20090-6456

Dear Mr. Jones:

I am writing this letter on behalf of Puget Consumers Co-op (PCC) and its 40,000 member shoppers. PCC has eight (8) stores in the Puget Sound area of Washington State and is the largest cooperative retailer of natural and organic foods in the United States.

PCC requests that you and the USDA Organic Program honor and act on the requests and recommendations of the Organic Trade Association (OTA), the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), and Seattle Tilth in regards to Docket # TMD-00-02-PR. In particular:

  1. GENETIC ENGINEERING (Proposed 205.2, 205.204(b); 205-204(f); 205.236 (b)(3); 205.270(b)(2)
    We do not agree with the USDA’s statement in the proposed rule that “Products created with modern biotechnology techniques … can be used safely in general agricultural production.” We support a moratorium on GMO crops until human health and environmental concerns are adequately addressed.

    USDA should not weaken the NOSB definition of genetic engineering with its new definition of “excluded methods.” If the USDA continues to use this terminology, “excluded methods” should be defined as “synthetic” so that the NOSB will have jurisdiction in the future what methods constitute those that should be “excluded.”

    Protect organic farmers from genetically engineered pollution and pesticide drift. The proposed rule does not address genetic drift, one of the most serious threats to organic agriculture, especially in corn growing regions. The USDA also must hold biotechnology patent holders and seed companies accountable and financially liable for the environmental and economic damage inflicted on organic farmers and producers caused by genetic drift.
  2. IRRADIATION (Proposed 205.2.)
    Irradiation should be permanently prohibited and not allowed into organics on a case by case review. The current proposal does not include any definition of irradiation. Irradiation must be defined and should not be allowed. USDA should list irradiation as “synthetic” so the NOSB will have legal authority to analyze any proposals to change prohibitions in the future.
  3. SEWAGE SLUDGE (Proposed 205.2).
    Sewage sludge should be permanently prohibited and not allowed into organics on a case by case review. The current proposal exempts burned sludge ash and some sewage waste generated early in the treatment process from its prohibition on sewage sludge. These types of sewage sludge should be prohibited in organic production.
  4. SUPPORT SMALL FAMILY FARMERS (Proposed 204.203; 205.103; 205.201; 205.202; 205.500(c ); 205.640; 205.642; 205.671; 205.672)
    The proposed rule should not place an undue burden on our country’s small farmers. Several requirements of the rule as currently written would place additional burdens on small farmers. For example:

    USDA must ensure that record keeping requirements do not place a major burden on small farmers who direct market their crops. (205.103 )

    The prohibition of any use of raw manure 90 or 120 days prior to harvest puts an overly restrictive regulation on many farmers. The use of raw manure must be restricted, its use documented in the farm plan with oversight by the certifier that reflects protection of air and water quality standards and food safety concerns. (205.203 C 1, ii, iii) Standards regarding facilities for handling and managing composting of manure and plant waste should be appropriate to the scale of operation and should accommodate small farmers by allowing on-farm composting for on-farm use (204.203 C) and (205.203 (a)( 3).

    The USDA proposal must provide lower fees for family farmers. Current fee structures are excessively high for small farmers. Meeting organic standards should be affordable for small farmers. After all, many are the good hardworking pioneers of organic agriculture.

    USDA should implement cost share programs to offset any increase in fees resulting from this rule, particularly for small farmers.

    USDA should create incentive programs to encourage farmers to move to organic production methods as well as waive current certification fees.

    USDA should provide accreditation services to organic certifiers free of charge as well as subsidize 100% of the costs of any farmer who wishes to become certified as organic.

    USDA should allocate funds to pay farmers a premium price for their products during their “transition to organic” phase as an added incentive for the majority of farmers to begin making the transition to sustainable and organic farming practices.

    USDA should adopt a conflict of interest policy enabling membership-based certification organizations to continue operating. 205.501.

    USDA should make provision for emergency variance from organic feed requirements, as recommended by the NOSB. 205.290(a)(4)

    USDA should allow farmers who are currently certified organic not be penalized for having used materials that are not allowed in the final regulations, provided those materials were allowed by the certification agency at the time the farm was certified. Those farmers should not have to begin the three-year transition period again.
  5. ANIMAL HUSBANDRY (Proposed 205.238 (a)(5); 205.239(b)(2)
    The proposed rule would allow animal factories, through its exemptions from outdoor access, “stage of production” language and other loopholes. Eliminate the loopholes and require pasture-based systems for ruminants and true outdoor access and sunlight for all farm animals.

    USDA must clearly define pasture (which excludes dry lots for cows), outdoor access and “temporary confinement” as well as a firm requirement for access to pasture for all livestock.

    Do not allow physical alterations such as de-toeing in organic production.
  6. PESTICIDE RESIDUES . Proposed 205.671 (a).
    The proposed rule ignores the NOSB recommendation on allowable pesticide residues, by not specifying that the lesser of 5% or the average pesticide residue for the nation be used in calculating allowable residue.
  7. LABELING Proposed 205.305
    Currently, the rule states that processed foods containing 50% or more organic ingredients may not use ingredients made with prohibited methods (including GMOs, sewage sludge and irradiation) in the non-organic component. Eliminate the loophole that would allow organic ingredients to be mixed with prohibited products.

    So-called “natural foods” with less than 50% organic ingredients should not be allowed to use the word “organic” anywhere on their package or product labels, given that the non-organic ingredients of these so-called “natural” products may be genetically engineered, irradiated, derived from sewage sludge, or produced with pesticides, growth hormones, or antibiotics.

    Require the use of organic ingredients whenever commercially available in the “organic” categories. 205.301(b). In other words, require handlers to attempt to source organic minor ingredients prior to being allowed to use non-organic ingredients. Handlers must be required to show why organic ingredients are not available.
    Create the 100 % organic label.
  8. GENERAL: Do not weaken or dilute any of the proposed organic rules published in the USDA’s March 2000 document in any manner. The USDA should stand firm on the following:

    • Prohibit feeding animals to animals to prevent Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow Disease) and the related human manifestation, new variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (a.k.a. nvCJD). Proposed 205.237 (b)(5).
    • Require use of 100 % organic animal feeds. Proposed 205.237.
    • Support specialty crop provisions. Add honey, sprout, greenhouse, mushroom, and maple syrup standards. (205.240; 205.204; 205.208-205.235.) These specialty products have particular challenges not addressed adequately in the proposed regulations.

One extremely important final point: PCC believes the NOSB should be selected and structured in a manner that ensures all points of view are represented to ensure the validity and integrity of organic agricultural methods and products. There should be a balanced mix that represents the areas of science, agriculture, distribution, and consumers. And the NOSB needs to be empowered to ensure that the standards it sets are enacted and upheld.

Thank you,


Jeff Voltz

Cc: Organic Trade Association
Organic Consumers Association
Seattle Tilth
Washington Dept. of Agriculture, Miles McEvoy
Washington Dept. of Agriculture, Mary Frazee
US Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman
Governor Gary Locke
US Senator Richard Lugar (IN)

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