Organic Label Remains Trustworthy and Relevant

GREENFIELD, Mass. (July 4, 2009) — The Organic Trade Association (OTA) and its members are organic advocates. We believe in, support, and advocate for the integrity of the organic label and strict enforcement of federal organic standards because this is fundamental to living up to the contract with consumers who choose or who are considering choosing organic products.

At the June 17 annual meeting of the OTA membership, Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, announced “the new era of equivalence and enforcement of organic standards.” She was met with a standing ovation from the packed house.

Article also chose to reinforce rhetoric that is not only inaccurate but serves a narrow agenda whose motivations go unquestioned

It is unfortunate the Washington Post article, “Purity of Federal ‘Organic’ Label Is Questioned”, July 3, 2009, focused on old news and urban legends. The article also chose to reinforce rhetoric that is not only inaccurate but serves a narrow agenda whose motivations go unquestioned in the article.

OTA, on behalf of its members, would like to correct some inaccuracies and try to move the debate beyond narrow rhetoric and toward a more fact-based perspective.

From the article: “Relaxation of the federal standards, and an explosion of consumer demand, have helped push the organics market into a $23 billion-a-year business, the fastest growing segment of the food industry.”

The federal organic standards have not been “relaxed.” Rigorously enforced standards can and do go hand-in-hand with growth. The author and those pitching this story have generously borrowed the rhetorical technique of setting up a false choice. The industry and OTA pushed for national organic regulations that consumers could rely on. Organic agriculture and products remain the most strictly regulated, as well as the fastest growing, food system in the United States today.

From the article: “But the USDA program’s shortcomings mean that consumers, who at times must pay twice as much for organic products, are not always getting what they expect: foods without pesticides and other chemicals, produced in a way that is gentle to the environment.”

In fact, if this is what someone expects from food, his or her best bet is to purchase organic.

Organic agriculture protects the health of people and the environment by reducing the overall exposure to toxic chemicals from synthetic pesticides that can end up in the ground, air, water and food supply, and that are associated with health consequences from asthma to cancer.

Extensive pesticide residue testing by the U.S.D.A. has found that conventionally produced fruits and vegetables are, on average, three to more than four times more likely to contain residues than organic produce, eight to eleven times more likely to contain multiple pesticide residues, and contain residues at levels three to ten times higher than corresponding residues in organic samples.

From the article: “Consumer groups and organics advocates are hopeful that the Obama administration will bolster the program. In his proposed budget, the president has doubled resources devoted to organics and installed USDA leaders who support change.”

The organic industry itself has long advocated for increased resources to support USDA’s National Organic Program and for parity for organic farmers within US agricultural policy. OTA and its members are thankful to have this support and are pleased by the important gains and intentions of USDA.

OTA members on March 26 called on 34 Senate and House offices advocating for OTA-endorsed FY2010 appropriations requests.

What exactly did OTA and the organic industry ask for?

•$6 million for NOP to better fund enforcement of the NOP regulations and strengthen certifier accreditation and training.

•$5 million for USDA Extension farming research; geared towards increase transition of acreage in the U.S. to organic production for the betterment of the environment.

This is consistent with OTA’s agenda since the NOP was fully implemented in 2002. OTA has always supported a strong NOP capable of clarifying, developing, and strictly enforcing the organic rule.

OTA and its members are pleased that the Obama administration, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan are supporters of organic agriculture and have expressed a commitment to ensuring the integrity of the USDA organic label.

Despite the misleading portrait painted in the article, organic agriculture and products offer lasting hope for better environmental and personal health.