Demonstrators protest USDA powergrab at NOSB's Spring 2014 meeting

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(NaturalNews) Protests disrupted the recent semi-annual meeting of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in San Antonio, Texas, marked by delaying parliamentary tactics and at least one arrest.

According to an online report by The Cornucopia Institute, an advocacy group that says it promotes "economic justice for family-scale farming," following the initial turmoil at the outset of the USDA-led meeting, members of the board "wrestled with the implications of widely criticized changes to its authority and procedures that have been imposed by USDA leadership without the customary public discussion or review."

The board, which was meeting for the first time since the governance and process changes were announced in a unilateral fashion in 2013, deferred a number of agenda items to its Fall 2014 meeting. In addition, some of the board's members challenged the USDA's authority outright.

The Institute provided some contextual history on the board's creation:

The National Organic Standards Board was established by Congress as part of the landmark Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA). The 15-member board is composed of organic farmers, consumers, organic food processors/retailers, environmentalists, a scientist and an organic certification representative. Congress gave the board the authority to review and approve materials used in organic agriculture and food, as well as mandating the USDA Secretary seek their advice and counsel on policies important to the organic community.

'Power grab'

"The NOSB is a prime example of the desire to build partnership and collaboration, as established by OFPA," said Will Fantle, co-director of The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog. "It was supposed to be a buffer to prevent total control of the organic sector by the USDA and big agribusiness interests."

As the recent meeting began, it was called to order by its new co-chair, Miles McEvoy of the USDA, who directs the staff of the National Organic Program. "The prominent role of the USDA bureaucrat, claiming the right to co-chair the NOSB meeting, was a first and part of the changes implemented by the USDA," explained the Institute in a report on the meeting.

Calling the move a "power grab," the Institute said it was challenged by a group of demonstrators from the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). Several of its members positioned themselves in front of the board's podium and began chanting, "Don't change Sunset," which is a reference to another controversial change made by the Agriculture Department that reportedly lowers the threshold for the re-authorization of synthetic materials permitted for temporary use in organic foods and agriculture.

Following a rapid adjournment of the meeting, the OCA's political director, Alexis Baden-Mayer, was arrested by police and removed from the room. Readers can see a video of her arrest here.

'It's amazing to me USDA would go to the mat'

The meeting resumed, and NOSB member Jay Feldman, who is executive director of the group Beyond Pesticides, called for a point of order to contest the co-chairing of the meeting by McEvoy. Feldman, the Institute said, was seeking to restore authority of the board's duly elected chairperson.

Moments later, after conferring with someone on his cellphone, McEvoy informed Feldman that, unless he retracted his parliamentary move, McEvoy would cancel the meeting. Feldman moved reluctantly to withdraw his objection at that point.

"It's amazing that the USDA would go to the mat over the issue of Mr. McEvoy's co-chairing the meeting," said Cornucopia's Will Fantle. "Being willing to shut down the entire process in San Antonio, after board members and organic stakeholders invested thousands of hours in preparation and tens of thousands of private and taxpayer dollars, over such a small but symbolic dispute is reprehensible."

Read the entire summary of the meeting here.


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