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Originally published July 31 2014

Cornucopia Institute calls for greater transparency on USDA Organic Standards Board candidates

by L.J. Devon, Staff Writer

(NaturalNews) In times of crisis, humans easily lose civility and good moral judgment. In times of adversity, like the ongoing drought conditions in California, standards can be reduced or lost altogether.

In the first quarter of 2014, USDA organic standards were practically slashed in half as drought conditions made it nearly impossible to raise cattle organically. Before the drought stressed the fields, organic standards required cattle to graze free-range on grasses for four months. During drought conditions, the standards allow organic farmers to cut two months out of the grass feeding protocol, permitting organic farmers to bring in feed from other sources. The result: Beef and dairy processed in California in 2014 may not be as whole and nutritious as it once was.

National Organic Standards Board set to fill four vacancies

A Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, the Cornucopia Institute, is now coming out, calling for greater transparency regarding USDA Organic Standards Board candidates. The research group has investigated recent appointments to the Board which occasionally include agribusiness executives who are more apt to lower organic standards. In fact, recent appointments to the Board during the Bush and Obama administrations appear to violate the letter of the law and Congress's original intent for the organic standards. Agribusiness executives who care less about organic standards have been appointed to a Board that was intended to represent the interests of organic food processing and consumer health.

The National Organic Standards Board was created to be a 15-member board of organic stakeholders that represent environmental, consumer, scientific and organic farmer interests. Four spots on the NOSB are currently available, and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack likes to keep candidates and their credentials secret until appointment. The Cornucopia Institute is calling on Vilsack to publicize the list of candidates who are vying for the NOSB vacancies. The Cornucopia Institute is calling for transparency to hold the USDA accountable and honest, so organic standards aren't furthered cheapened by big agribusiness representatives who care less about food purity and integrity standards.

Cornucopia Institute seeking transparency for NOSB candidates; nine come forward

"Transparency has been a hallmark of organic food and agriculture. We think that letting the organic community know who has applied for the vacant positions will allow for feedback and help the Secretary make the best possible appointments," said Cornucopia's co-director Will Fantle.

"Appointments have been made in the past of individuals who do not meet the legally mandated criteria for a seat on the NOSB. Sunshine on the secretive process could have prevented such ill-advised moves," added Fantle.

A Freedom of Information Act request has been filed, calling on the USDA to release candidates' names. So far, nine candidates have come forward. They include the following:

Cornucopia's Board President, Helen Kees, who is also a third-generation certified organic farmer, said, "We hope that by making the names of these candidates public, some of whom are eminently qualified to sit on the NOSB, it will be harder for Secretary Vilsack to ignore the intent of Congress by stacking the NOSB with additional agribusiness-friendly representatives."

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