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Organic standard updates stymied by slow-moving USDA could finally advance thanks to new legislation

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/Petmal
Source: Getty/Petmal

Related tags: Organic, Usda

Industry-supported efforts to update organic food standards could finally move forward after being held at a standstill for years by the US Department of Agriculture if bipartisan legislation introduced in the House late last week becomes law.

The Continuous Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards Act (CIAO) introduced April 30 by members of the House Organic Caucus, including Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., would require USDA to issue a final rule implementing within two years recommendations passed by the National Organic Standards Board, which advises the agency on oversight of the National Organic Program.

It also would require USDA to clear a backlog of recommendations NOSB made to improve the organic program, including 20 that have been made in the past 10 years that have not been finalized through rulemaking, according to the Organic Trade Association.

These include recommendations made in the past year to protect the genetic integrity of seeds and to clarify the use of vaccines in livestock, as well as recommendations for mushroom production made as long ago as 19 years. Other recommendations held up by the USDA include guidelines for greenhouse production, animal welfare, retailer compliance, certifier and inspector training and more.

Finally, the legislation also would require USDA to report to Congress annually on third-party certifiers’ implementation of new rules and guidance and to identify any inconsistencies, OTA said.

“For far too long, organic producers have been waiting for the Department of Agriculture to move forward with numerous consensus recommendations to improve organic standards and protect the integrity of the organic label,”​ said Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, who co-sponsored the legislation.

She explained this legislation will “hold the USDA accountable so we can continue to move the National Organic Program forward.”

DeFazio agreed, noting that “federal bureaucracy for the past 20 years has gotten in the way of improvements supported by the organic sector, inhibiting innovation in the industry,”​ which is why he added, “it’s time for USDA to cut the red tape, expeditiously act, and allow improvements that both the industry and consumers demand.”

Other co-sponsors of the bill include Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and Ron Kind, D-Wisc.

The legislation also is endorsed by the American Sustainable Business Council, the Environmental Working Group, the National Farmers Union, the National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association, the Organic Farmers Association and the Accredited Certifiers Association, among others.

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