USDA refutes organic watchdog claims of “undue influence” on organic policy

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags National organic program Organic food Organic certification

The USDA has strongly refuted allegations that the National Organic Program (NOP) is subject to what organic campaign group, The Cornucopia Institute, terms “undue corporate influence.”

In a statement released exclusively to, a USDA spokesman said: “The number one priority of the National Organic Program (NOP) is to uphold and enforce the organic standards. We are not subject to corporate influence, and all rule making is a very public process​.”

Transparency is a key component of the NOP, he continued. “We are committed to the integrity of the organic seal, and we are continually placing greater emphasis on compliance and enforcement activities​.”

Corporate influence

The statement was made in response to a letter from the institute’s co-director

Will Fantle to USDA secretary USDA secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to protect the growing organic industry against “undue corporate influence​.” He should do that by collaborating with the organic community on pending appointments to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), advised the letter.

When Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act in 1990, it designated membership slots on the NOSB for various constituencies involved with organic food and agriculture. But past appointments have not always reflected that aim, alleged Fantle’s letter.

In a separate statement, Fantle said: "During the Bush administration we saw crass politics, at its worst, in play during the NOSB appointment process​."

In one previous appointment, an employee of General Mills​ was nominated to fill a slot on the board that Congress had earmarked for a consumer representative, he claimed. "Abuses of this nature are repugnant to the organic community and certainly betray the letter and spirit of the Organic Foods Production Act, the law passed by Congress giving the USDA authority to oversee the industry​," said Fantle.

These appointments marginalize the voices of consumers and farmers who have built this industry, and places a disproportionate control of national organic policy in the hands of board members working for multinational for-profit enterprises.​”

As examples it cited Whole Foods, Earthbound Farms, Quality Assurance International, Organic Valley, Philips Mushrooms and Campbell Soup.

Secret nominees

Also last year, when the Obama/Vilsack administration at the USDA named new NOSB members, they continued the Bush administration policy of keeping secret the nominees and the related corporations or organizations they work for or represent, claimed the institute.

However, the USDA spokesman pointed out: “All board appointments are advertised throughout the organic community and posted on our website​.”

But Fantle began his letter to Vilsack on a congratulatory note: “We are highly impressed with the caliber and commitment of the new management at the National Organic Program. We thank you for fulfilling the commitment you made—to appoint leadership at the NOP who shared organic community values...”.

This year five new members will be appointed to the NOSB.

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