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GREENFIELD, Mass. -- The Organic Trade Association (OTA) here submitted a letter signed by more than 200 companies, farmers, and trade associations supporting the association's request that Congress restore the National Organic Program at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
OTA's request follows a court ruling that undermined more than 12 years of effort by organic growers, consumers, manufacturers, Congress, and the USDA, to build a vibrant, growing organic marketplace, said OTA.
"We believe that the current standards, which represent the result of a unique partnership between the government and the public and private sectors, need to remain intact in order to minimize disruption and marketplace confusion and to protect the growing marketplace for organic farmers," said Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of OTA.
A June 2005 court ruling found a few technical inconsistencies between the 1990 organic law and the final standards implemented by the USDA in 2002 after an extensive process of public discussion and input. In order to allow Congress time to clarify the 1990 law, the court did not immediately implement its ruling.
"The court identified the problem and set the timeline, and Congress is responding," said DiMatteo. "The support from the overwhelming majority of organic businesses and the administration for a prompt solution has been great."
The "USDA Organic" seal currently guarantees that the consumer is getting a product made from 95 percent or more organic ingredients and processed with the least amount of non-organic ingredients and processing aids, DiMatteo added.
"We spent 12 years developing and establishing these rules," said George Siemon, c.e.o. of Organic Valley, the country's largest organic cooperative. "We strongly support Congress restoring the standards that the organic community has invested so much into and which have worked so well on the farm and in the marketplace."
Under the court ruling, unless the 1990 law is clarified, numerous products now bearing the "USDA Organic" seal could disappear from store shelves, thus threatening the growth of organic farms and acreage and taking away markets and outlets for organic farmers, Siemon said.
An economic impact report summarizing the results of a survey taken among OTA's membership has concluded that if the court decision directives are implemented, an estimated 25 percent of all manufacturers currently producing certified organic products would exit the organic industry altogether. Another 18 percent said they would change product formulations to include fewer organic ingredients or would eliminate many certified organic products currently sold in the marketplace. The projected net revenue loss for the manufacturing sector would be $758 million per year. That loss trickles down the supply chain to the farmer, causing potential economic devastation to those small and mid-sized organic farmers.
Based on label categories created by Congress, the work of the NOSB has resulted in more choices in the organic marketplace. The federal regulations include the '100 percent organic' label category for shoppers seeking those products that can be made with organic ingredients and nothing else. "The 'Organic' label category expands the variety of organic products available and, by doing so, supports organic farming and makes products available for more consumers. Having more farms using organic practices benefits everyone," DiMatteo added.