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April 29, 2004
Contact: Mark Kastel 608-625-2042
Will Fantle 715-839-7731

Critics to Protest Weakening of Organic Food Standards at Chicago Meeting this Friday

Rules and regulations governing the quality of organic food and farming standards are being weakened according to critics of the federal National Organic Program and they intend to take their message to the semi-annual meeting of the National Organics Standards Board (NOSB) in Chicago this Friday. The public comment period will begin at 8 am in the Buckingham Meeting Room of the Best Western Inn, located on 162 East Ohio Street.

“We have lost confidence in the ability of USDA's National Organic Program to protect the creditability of organic agriculture,” says Mark Kastel, Director of The Organic Integrity Program at The Cornucopia Institute. “The USDA,” charges Kastel, “is watering down the standards to benefit large corporations at the expense of organic consumers and family-scale organic farmers.”

The Cornucopia Institute is working with organic farmers and consumers to ensure that the voices of opposition to these changes are heard at the NOSB meeting. A number of organic farmers from around the country - who are unable to attend the meeting - have submitted testimony that will be presented on their behalf by Chicago area consumers who supports their farming practices.

Among the farmers is Jon Cherniss, who grows organic vegetables in Central Illinois. In his prepared testimony, Cherniss says:

“Every time the NOP grants an exception that violates the spirit of the rule, it degrades the term ORGANIC and chips away at its legacy and erodes it traditional base of support. What are consumers supposed to think? How can I convince my colleagues, experienced organic practitioners, not to walk away from organic?”

Two recent examples illustrate the drive to weaken organic standards, according to Kastel. USDA bureaucrats reversed a decision made by an accredited organic certifier who had denied organic certification to a factory farm raising chickens because the chickens lacked access to the outdoors. Organic standards for dairy operations are also threatened by a staff decision allowing a large organic dairy farm to purchase conventional (non-organic) heifers (replacement cows) from off the farm and then phase them into their organic operation. Previous policy demanded that all replacement milkers come from certified organic operations.

“Connecting the dots between these and other policy decisions reveals a pattern of accommodation between the USDA and large corporate interests who want to control the future of organic agriculture,” says Kastel. “The weakening of organic standards could severely damage consumer interest in one of agriculture’s rare bright spots – a $12 billion sector that has been growing by more than 20% a year.”

Those upset with the policy direction of the National Organic Program are calling upon USDA Secretary Ann Veneman to implement “regime change.” Says Kastel: “We need management and staff at the NOP who are qualified, have a strong organic background and respect the organic community.”

The Cornucopia Institute is non-profit group dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. The group’s Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate watchdog monitoring the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces.

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The Cornucopia Institute can provide names and contact information for other farmers and consumers testifying before the National Organics Standards Board. A briefing paper detailing the move towards weaker organic food standards is also available upon request.

Mark A. Kastel

The Cornucopia Instute

608-625-2042 Voice

608-62502943 Fax

P.O. Box 126

Cornucopia, Wisconsin 54827