The Organic Trade Association is refuting a Washington Post article that claims the U.S. Department of Agriculture's organic standards have been relaxed, saying the article is based on "old news and urban legends."
According to the July 3 Post article, the USDA inspector general's office is investigating the USDA's oversight of private certifiers who decide what products can carry the organic label, and whether those products meet the federal organic standards.
The Post said lobbyists have caused the National Organic Program to lose focus of its original intent, specifically naming the Organic Trade Association's successful 2006 effort to allow some synthetic food substances in organic foods. That created "conditions for a flood of processed organic foods," according to the article.
Although the Organic Trade Association didn't address that change in the organic program, the association on July 4 defended the National Organic Program.
"Contrary to what is implied here, there is a very specific process that materials must go through before they are permitted for inclusion in organic products," the association said in a news release.
The Organic Trade Association's response to the Washington Post article can be found here.
The Post article focuses on baby food, dairy products and other products, but doesn't call into question the integrity of fresh produce. The article, however, quotes a Nebraska man whose company certifies fruit and vegetable growers. Sam Welsch, president of OneCert, said he's lost up to a dozen growers because he wouldn't allow the use of certain liquid fertilizers that are "unnaturally spiked" with nitrogen.
In February, the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, which oversees the organic program, said it will require third-party certifiers to implement audit and inspection protocols for high-nitrogen liquid organic fertilizers, effective Oct. 1.
The announcement came after two California companies were found to have sold fertilizer with unapproved substances, triggering disciplinary actions against one manufacturer and a federal probe into the other company.
Also on July 3, the Cornucopia, Wis.-based Cornucopia Institute, which bills itself as an organic watchdog group, called on President Obama and agriculture secretary to fix the "dysfunctional" National Organic Program.
The institute said USDA managers have allowed standards to become lax through "cozy" relationships with corporate lobbyists, specifically calling into question the integrity of imported organic vegetables and other items from China. The group has requested Obama to investigate the organic program, which was intentionally undermined by the Bush administration, according to a Cornucopia Institute news release.