COMMENTARY

Just desserts
Farmer who brought lawsuit against USDA over inconsistencies in organic rule says the court’s actions should not surprise anyone.

April 14, 2005

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NF


I have some remarks on the March 31 article by Dan Sullivan, entitled "Harvey v. Veneman: Spectre of unintended consequences roils organic waters.” For my part, nothing "unintended" has occurred. Of course, industry leaders who assumed that USDA could do no wrong (legally speaking) are overwhelmed by surprise and wonder at the changes they face. Such is the result of complacency. They could instead have exercised due diligence and hired competent attorneys to predict the unanimous verdict of the appeals court.

How did it happen that organic heavies--inside and outside USDA--pretended all along that the law allowed synthetics in processing? And how did it happen that USDA staff lied to the courts about whether .606 was administered to provide blanket approval for "any agricultural product" in violation of the law? Fortunately, the appeals court understood the duplicity and required a declaratory judgment that the violations must stop.

Your discussion of the 80/20 dairy feed conversion system omits one crucial element: Under that system, cows can--and for the most part will--be fed GMO corn, soybeans and other products until 90 days prior to "organic" production. Consumers are not being told of this. This was not the case when 80/20 was adopted 10 or 15 years ago.

I am asking the court to provide 24 months to phase in the reformed standards, after which no further non-confoming products may enter the stream of commerce. USDA has so far indicated a preference for 12 to 18 months. It might be worth making some effort to persuade USDA to adopt the longer phase-in, which would reduce the impact on farmers and allow manufacturers to find more natural substitutes for the synthetics now in use.

The basis of the law is strict control of synthetics in farming and a complete ban on synthetics added to processed foods (except for health and safety requirement of other laws). Those who wish to ask Congress to amend the law to legalize the present system will have to undermine or abolish this basic principle. Once that happens, there will be no checks at all on the free hand that USDA will have to water down organic standards. This is the issue on which I brought my lawsuit.

Arthur Harvey