Organics in 2010: Age of Enforcement

Sound Consumer | February 2010

by Eli Penberthy, Associate Editor

(February 2010) — The year 2010 is shaping up as a very good one for the National Organic Program (NOP). The new director, Miles McEvoy, is promising an "Age of Enforcement," with stronger standards, increased collaboration with stakeholders, improved oversight, and penalties for violations.

Now going into its eighth year, the NOP develops, implements and administers national standards for organic agricultural products — overseeing production, processing and labeling. It also accredits the agents who inspect organic production and handling operations to certify that they meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) organic standards.

For the past 20 years, McEvoy was head of the Washington State Department of Agriculture's Organic Food Program. He also assisted Oregon and Montana in establishing their state organic programs, has worked as an organic inspector, and holds a degree in soil science. He recently outlined an ambitious agenda for the NOP in 2010.

Priorities

For the "Age of Enforcement" to succeed, McEvoy reportedly says the definition for "access to pasture" must be clarified and that publishing new detailed standards for organic livestock is a priority this year.

The rules reflect years of work to close loopholes exploited by so-called "organic" factory farms. They mandate a minimum of 120 days of grazing per year and require ruminants (cows, sheep and goats) to derive at least 30 percent of their feed from grazing.

McEvoy says NOP will begin making unannounced inspections of certified organic operations and initiate market surveillance. He says NOP is developing a matrix of pen-alties for violations of organic standards.

In an interview with the Rodale Institute, McEvoy said the most important job of the NOP is to "... enforce the standards to protect organic integrity." More training of inspectors and better consistency among certifiers is a high priority for 2010.

With increased Congressional funding this year for the organic program, McEvoy intends to hire more qualified staff (doubling it from 16 employees to 31) and to produce program and quality manuals. He says he hopes to bring "greater transparency" to the national organic process and how decisions are made.

Another 2010 priority includes establishing a peer review board, which was mandated by the Organic Food Production Act 20 years ago but has not yet been implemented. The peer review board would be comprised of respected organic experts and would help monitor and enforce compliance to the spirit and letter of the organic regulations.

McEvoy's work plan includes implementing recommendations by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), completing an assessment of state organic programs, and reviewing the so-called National List, which identifies substances that may be used in organic production when organic counterparts are not available and effectively prohibits substances that cannot be used. In addition, the NOP plans to ensure smooth implementation of an equivalency agreement between the United States and Canada, allowing products that are certified organic in one country to be sold as organic in the other.

McEvoy says the NOP also soon will address a new rule involving the "origin of livestock." A lack of clarity in the current rules led to complaints that some operators inappropriately were adding conventional heifers to their organic herd. Clarification of the organic standards' ban against cloning may also be part of the new rule.

For the first time, meetings of the NOSB will be rotated across the country to make it easier for the organic community to attend and provide input on topics under discussion. This spring the NOSB will meet in California.

Evident progress

Since McEvoy assumed his role last September, several longstanding complaints filed by The Cornucopia Institute (see Newsbites, Sound Consumer, February 2010) alleging violations at industrial-scale dairies have been reopened and are under investigation. Some of the complaints had languished for more than 15 months.

In November, one of the largest organic cattle producers in the United States, Promiseland Livestock, had its organic certification suspended for four years. Promiseland operates on more than 13,000 acres with 22,000 head of beef and dairy cows. It was accused of multiple improprieties but ulti-mately lost its certification because it refused to let the USDA inspect its records.

The Cornucopia Institute says, "The new resources, combined with the energy and enthusiasm exhibited by McEvoy during his NOSB presentation, bodes well for the integrity of organic food and agriculture." To Cornucopia and PCC, it's already evident.

More about: agriculture, beef, certified organic, NOP, NOSB, organic food, pastured meat and dairy

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