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Proposed bill would give USDA more power to police organic seal users

June 22nd, 2012

Congresswoman Lois Capps (CA-23) and Congressman Richard Hanna (NY-24) have introduced bipartisan legislation, the Organic Standards Protection Act, to ensure that products bearing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic seal comply with the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.

The legislation, endorsed by a variety of California agriculture and consumer groups, would protect the growing organic farming industry and its expanding consumer base by granting the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) the legislative authority it needs to more effectively protect the integrity of certified organic products.

According to a report by the Organic Trade Assn. (OTA), the U.S. organic market in 2011 surpassed $31 billion for the first time, representing 9.5 percent growth. The organic food industry also generated more than 500,000 American jobs in 2010. The Central Coast ranked 2nd in California in 2009 organic farm sales, generating in excess of $224 million in revenue. The 23rd district of California ranks 30th nationally in the number of organic farms.

“This bipartisan legislation is a win-win, for Central Coast farmers and businesses who consistently meet the highest standards for organic products and for consumers who deserve to know that all products on grocery store shelves labeled ‘USDA organic’ adhere to consistently high standards. Failing to weed out imposter products puts our organic industries at a competitive disadvantage and could potentially damage the brand of organic products,” Capps says.

Organic farming is a growing industry in upstate New York, which is creating jobs and meeting an increasing consumer demand,” Hanna says. “This bill takes commonsense steps to make sure USDA has the tools necessary to protect the integrity of the organic seal and safeguard this booming industry from unscrupulous producers.”

The Organic Trade Assn. supports the passage of the Organic Standards Protection Act which, if enacted, will give the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Organic Program additional tools to safeguard the integrity of the USDA Organic seal.

“Consumers drive the growth in organic food and farming and maintaining their trust is critical to the future of this fast-growing job-creating sector of agriculture,” says Christine Bushway, CEO of OTA. “On behalf of the 6,500 certified organic operations nationwide that OTA represents, we applaud the leadership of Congresswoman Capps to position organic to meet consumer expectations into the future.”

CCOF supports the Organic Standards Protection Act to further ensure consumer confidence in high-quality organic products. Our members include 2400 organic farmers, ranchers, processors and handlers whose competitiveness relies on a strong regulatory framework that is fairly enforced,” says Cathy Calfo, executive director/CEO, California Certified Organic Farmers.

According to a recent USDA Office of Inspector General report, the absence of investigative authorities has hampered the National Organic Program’s ability to protect the integrity of the organic label. Currently, the NOP does not have the authority to stop the representation, labeling or sale of organic products when they have been treated with prohibited substances or when conventional products are being sold as organic. Embargo and stop sale authority would provide the NOP with additional tools to protect the integrity of organic food products.

The Organic Standards Protection Act would provide the USDA with the authority to stop sale of unlawfully represented products, and would enhance the effectiveness of investigations while providing for appeal of the Secretary’s actions. The bill would also provide penalties for refusal to obey a conclusive judgment.

The bill would:

• Grant USDA the authority to stop the sale of products fraudulently labeled and sold as certified organic while protecting the rights of producers and handlers during the appeals process;

• Streamline recordkeeping requirements by requiring all organic producers and certifiers to maintain and provide records to the USDA to improve its investigative process and enforcement efforts;

• Impose a civil penalty of $10,000 on those who violate the USDA’s revocation of their certification;

• The legislation is supported by the California Certified Organic Farmers, the Organic Trade Assn. and the National Organic Coalition.

Source: Congresswoman Capps

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