(June 21) WASHINGTON, D.C. — Members of the organic industry are optimistic after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s conciliatory overtures during a recent meeting promising more communication on issues that affect the department’s National Organic Program.

At the same time, a USDA advisory group on organic issues and a trade organization for the industry promise to remain vigilant on USDA interpretations of the organic program standards.

The three-hour meeting on June 9 at USDA headquarters came after weeks of organic industry criticism concerning several recent clarifications on organic regulations.

Among other things, those decisions would have allowed the limited use of pesticides containing inert chemicals, the use of antibiotics in dairy cows and fishmeal containing non-organic preservatives as a supplement in livestock feed.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman rescinded those guidelines in late May, and the USDA scheduled the meeting in an effort to build communication between the USDA and the industry it regulates through the National Organic Program.

The Agricultural Marketing Service oversees the program, and AMS administrator A.J. Yates attended the meeting, along with associate administrator Ken Clayton. Veneman briefly visited the meeting, and USDA officials asked for opinions on how to proceed with the issues.

“We’re cautiously optimistic at this stage,” said Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Greenfield, Mass.-based Organic Trade Association, one of three representatives of the OTA in attendance. “I would say there was a lot of good intent at the meeting. Now we have to see how things move forward. As they say, the proof is in the pudding.”

Ann Cooper, a member of the National Organic Standards Board, an advisory group appointed by the USDA, said the meeting was a much-needed step to mend relations between the board and the USDA.

Cooper, executive chef for The Ross School, East Hampton, N.Y., said there’s a new sense of optimism among board members that their input will be solicited in the future.

“I think some people are finally looking for common ground, and it was fabulous that we had the meeting and talked,” Cooper said. “I think there’s been a tremendous amount of time and energy and commitment by people all over the country, by people trying to bring organics to the forefront.”