DC, August 6, 2004 (ENS): The Center for Food
Safety is questioning the qualifications and background
of the agents permitted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) to certify foods as organic - and is doing so
in federal court.
The Washington, DC group filed a lawsuit against the
USDA Thursday seeking the release of documents detailing
the qualifications and background of the organic food
certifiers that agency allows to participate in the
national organic food program.
Certification of organic farms is the fundamental enforcement
mechanism of national organic food standards behind
the USDA "Organic" label.
Since 2000, the number of organic certifying agents
has risen from 49 to over 120. "This unexpected
increase in the number of accreditation applicants raises
troubling questions about possible 'sham' certifiers
and the USDA's ability to properly assess the qualifications
of the large volume of new certifiers seeking accreditation,"
the Center says.
In an effort to ensure that USDA is not allowing "sham"
certifiers into the organic program, in June of 2002,
the Center for Food Safety filed a Freedom of Information
Act request seeking all USDA documents used in reviewing
the application of certifiers to participate in the
program. But the USDA has refused to provide CFS with
the documents without charge, so the group has taken
its request for a waiver of the copying fees to court.
The Freedom of Information Act requires agencies to
waive fees for the requested documents if the requester
can show that “disclosure of the information is
in the public interest," the Center argues.
"USDA's failure to release these documents threatens
the integrity of the organic label," said Joseph
Mendelson, CFS legal director. "The decision on
who is to certify organic produce needs to be in full
view of the public, where it cannot be influenced by
large corporate interests."
"The refusal to provide these records is another
step in the Bush administration's attempt to cut the
public out of the debate concerning organic foods,"
said Mendelson. "Consumers and organic producers
want to ensure that use of the organic label adheres
to a high standard."