USDA Set to Destroy Organic

In late summer or fall, the USDA will issue its long-delayed federal regulations on organic food. Despite precise recommendations from the National Organics Standards Board (NOSB) to maintain strict organic standards — policies basically in harmony with those advocated by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), and the European Parliament — USDA officials have delayed as long as possible in announcing federal regulations on organics.

The main reason for the delay was agribusiness’ desire to be included in the potential profits (sales of organics have increased 20% a year since 1990). Hand in glove with the agribusiness industry, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the USDA have promoted genetically engineered foods and high-chemical-input agriculture. Now the USDA finds itself in a quandary.

To define the word organic is to admit that a host of agribusiness practices such as pesticide use, intensive confinement of livestock, hormone injection, and genetic engineering are somehow less healthy. Yet, the USDA, FDA, and EPA have strenuously argued for years that these practices are perfectly safe. According to several inside sources in Washington who have seen the proposed rules, the USDA not only intends to disregard the NOSB’s explicit ban on genetically engineered food and intensive confinement of farm animals, but will actually make it illegal for regional or non-governmental organic certification bodies to uphold organic standards stricter than U.S. government standards.

If the USDA gets away with this in the United States, their eventual strategy will be to use the legal hammer of the GATT World Trade Organization to force European and other nations to lower their organic standards as well. This could cause serious repercussions internationally, where there is increasing opposition to genetically engineered food. It would have a huge impact and be viewed with utter dismay by the rest of the world, says Ken Cummins, of the International Accreditation Services, part of the International Federation of Organic Movements.