Large-scale organic food producers have beaten back an effort to strengthen national organic standards. The Organic Trade Association, which represents 1,600 farmers, distributors and grocers, had feared that stricter standards would hinder the industry’s growth.
Federal organic standards
adopted in 2002 permitted some synthetic substances to be used in
processing organic foods. If an organic ingredient was not
commercially available, manufacturers could use a conventional
equivalent without informing consumers. And dairy cows in
transition to organic production were allowed to eat some
conventional feed during the year leading up to organic
certification of their milk.
In June, the 1st Circuit
Court of Appeals ruled that those standards were inconsistent with
the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. The court determined that
most synthetic substances approved under the 2002 standards cannot
be used in processing organic food. It said that dairy herds
converting to organic production must receive 100 percent organic
feed, and it tightened oversight of substitutions for organic
But in October, the Organic Trade
Association asked Congress to amend the act, and a last-minute
rider to an appropriations bill effectively reversed the Appeals
The rider also could strip the National
Organic Standards Board of its power to regulate synthetic
substances that are used during processing but don’t appear
on a product’s ingredient list. Only 38 synthetic substances
are currently allowed in organic foods, but that number could
skyrocket under the new law.
"We’re concerned that
the amendment could allow a whole host of processing aids and
synthetic substances to be added without any review," says Joe
Mendelson of the Center for Food Safety.