Organic stakeholders and lobbyists will meet Oct. 31 for the semiannual meeting of the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board. Front and center will be the debate about whether to change the federal organic standards to allow organic produce grown hydroponically. The practice of growing fruits and vegetables in inert mediums that depend on liquid fertilizers, rather than in rich organically managed soil, has been intensely controversial. The USDA has quietly allowed importers and major agribusinesses to skirt the legal requirements for careful soil stewardship and still qualify for use of the organic seal.
Over the summer, the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) has faced a maelstrom of criticism after a series of investigative reports in The Washington Post documented abuses on factory farms and large quantities of fraudulent organic commodities being imported from Eastern Europe.
Then on September 18, the Office of Inspector General at the USDA released the results of an audit finding the USDA failing in their congressional mandated oversight of imports. Also in September, the NOP’s longtime director, Miles McEvoy, announced his abrupt retirement after nearly a decade on the job.
“A number of major controversies are coming to a head simultaneously,” said Mark Kastel, co-director of The Cornucopia Institute.
The current makeup of the National Organic Standards Board, which Congress created as a buffer to insulate organic rule making from the influence of corporate lobbying. Over the years, public interest groups have charged that the expert advisory panel, given statutory authority by Congress, has been stacked with members of the OTA holding seats the law designated for farmers and other independent stakeholders.