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Organic standards

USDA appoints corporate agribusiness reps to Organic Standards Board

Tuesday, December 19, 2006 by: Jessica Fraser
Tags: organic standards, the USDA, conflict of interest


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(NewsTarget) The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced last week that it has appointed four corporate agribusiness representatives to positions on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), which advises the USDA on laws that govern the $16 billion organic industry, according to the Organic Consumers Association (OCA).

The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) mandates that the NOSB be comprised of a diverse group of organic experts. However, the USDA appointed four corporate representatives to fill open spots on the board.

Katrina Heinze from General Mills was appointed to the position of scientist; Tracy Miedema from Stahlbush Island Farms -- a largely non-organic operation -- was appointed Consumer and Public Interest Group Representative; Tina Ellor of Phillips Mushroom Farms was appointed environmentalist; and Campbell Soup's Steve DeMuri was appointed handler.

OCA National Director Ronnie Cummings said the USDA's appointments are a "blatant attempt" by the Bush administration to stack the NOSB with industrial farming supporters.

"Stahlbush Farms, which admits on its website to using pesticides, fungicides, and insecticides on its crops is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an organic consumer or public interest group," Cummins said. "Likewise, General Mills is not an academic institution, qualified to submit an impartial 'scientist' to serve on the NOSB."

The OCA has mobilized its 500,000-strong national grassroots action network of organic consumers to help halt the USDA's appointments. The association said it believes Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns is responsible for intervening and ensuring the NOSB is comprised of qualified organic specialists that genuinely represent consumer and public interest groups, as required by the OFPA.

"We will be asking our members to call General Mills, Campbell Soup, and Stahlbush Farms and request that the appointees from their company decline appointment, in the best interest of the organic sector," Cummins said.

The OCA said it also plans to ask for a Congressional hearing to examine the USDA's management of the National Organic Program, as well as its alleged attempts to disregard the OFPA.

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