On December 5, 2006, the USDA announced its new appointments to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The NOSB essentially advises the USDA on how to interpret and implement federal organic laws that regulate industry. The NOSB has the ability to significantly weaken or strengthen the effectiveness of the national organic standards.
According to federal law, the NOSB is to be made up of a diverse group of experts in the organic field, including a public interest group representative, an environmentalist, a scientist, and a handler. Despite this clear mandate of diversity, the USDA's new appointments are all industry representatives. USDA’s new appointees are:
Scientist: Katrina Heinze (General Mills)
Consumer and Public Interest Group Representative: Tracy Miedema (Stahlbush Island Farms, a primarily non-organic operation)
Environmentalist: Tina Ellor (Phillips Mushroom Farms)
Handler: Steve DeMuri (Campbell Soup)
Historically, there has only been one other instance where the USDA has attempted to stack non-industry seats on the NOSB with industry representatives, and the results were an embarrassment for the USDA. One year ago, the agency attempted to put a General Mills’ company representative, Katrina Heinz in the NOSB Public Interest Group Representative seat, which was closely followed by a massive consumer backlash spearheaded by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and the Consumers Union. The protests caused Heinz to decline the appointment.
“Never before has the Bush administration’s USDA made such a blatant attempt to pack the National Organic Standards Board with people who represent corporate agribusiness and industrial farming practices,” says OCA National Director Ronnie Cummins. “Stahlbush Farms, which admits on its website to using pesticides, fungicides, and insecticides on its crops (except for its canned pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and frozen green beans) is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an organic consumer or public interest group.
Steve - another battle we must fight. Contact your congressmen/women and let them know that this is unacceptable. In appointing these people, it is not a strecth to say that the organic standards will be watered down. The USDA Organic Standards are under an incredible amount of pressure as it is. This is like letting the fox into the hen house!