U.S. organic feed furore

Language allowing organic labeling on meat fed from less than 100% organic feed sends 52 senators to seek reversal. National organic campaign launched.
March 12, 2003

Language in the U.S. FY2003 spending package allowing livestock and poultry producers to label their meat products “organic” even if their animals were not fed 100% organic feed has inspired 52 Senators to introduce legislation to reverse the exemption, AFIA says.
The Organic Trade Association urged Congress to pass legislation introduced by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D, VT), Tom Harkin (D, IA) and Russ Feingold (D, WI) that would repeal the exemption. Rep. Sam Farr (D, CA) has introduced similar legislation in the House.
The language included in the appropriations package would allow livestock and poultry producers to label their production as organic as long as the Secretary of Agriculture could not verify adequate amounts of organic grain at less than twice the cost of conventional grains.

Meanwhile, a national advertising campaign calling on U.S. consumers to join the fight to protect the organic standards has been announced by Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association, the business association that led the successful 12-year struggle to put the standards into place on October 21, 2002.

The campaign broke on Friday, March 7, with a full-page ad in The New York Times. The hard-hitting consumer call-to-action warned Americans that a "stealth" amendment secretly inserted into a 3,000-page spending bill has quietly made a mockery of America's new organic labeling law.

Underneath an image of the new U.S.D.A. organic seal that substitutes "not really organic" where the verification "organic" would normally sit, the ad warns readers: "Only YOU Can Stop This From Happening." Consumers - more than 55 percent of whom buy organic products, research shows* - are urged to contact their Congressional representatives to ask for support in passing new legislation repealing the rider (S. 457, HR. 955).

"More than a quarter million citizens voiced their outrage at past efforts to weaken the standards, and they stand ready to defend the standards again today. Consumers will accept no substitutes for organic," said DiMatteo. "Our goal is to work with consumers to help Congress understand the magnitude of our support for maintaining the integrity of the organic standards."

DiMatteo emphasized that organic farmers, producers, retailers and other members of the organic and environmental communities stand united in support of the Leahy-Snowe 'Organic Restoration Act' in the Senate and its counterpart in the House of Representatives. Declared DiMatteo, "We are grateful for the solid bipartisan support behind this effort and for the backing of the Bush administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture."

About the Rider
Preventing funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's enforcement of organic livestock requirements if organic feed costs twice or more as much as conventional feed, Section 771 of the 2003 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which was signed into law by President Bush on February 20, allows producers to label their meat, poultry and dairy products "organic" even if they do not meet the strict criteria set forth by USDA for feeding 100 percent organic feed. This is a serious issue because organic livestock provides meat, milk, eggs, cheese, wool, and more, forming the basis of hundreds of products.

One company's reluctance to pay the price for organic feed prompted the rider, noted DiMatteo, although Organic Trade Association information shows that there is enough organic feed available. The measure also creates an uneven playing field for organic producers, many of whom have already made the commitment to organic production and are following the rules.

"We must not forget that the original reason national organic standards were sought was to make sure that products labeled as organic in the marketplace truly were produced through stringent measures that could be tracked," DiMatteo said. "We must fight to keep organic organic."