Cornucopia Institute files suit against USDA

Cornucopia Institute files suit against USDA

Lawsuit alleges USDA appointed non-farmers to posts reserved for farmers on National Organic Standards Board, thereby making board hostile to interests it was designed to protect.

The Cornucopia Institute filed a lawsuit April 18 alleging the National Organic Standards Board has appointed non-farmers to positions reserved for organic farmers on the National Organic Standards Board.

The National Organic Standards Board is a 15-member board that oversees the U.S. organic industry and makes recommendations to the agriculture secretary on issues involving the organic industry. Members are appointed by the secretary of agriculture to serve a five-year term. Meetings are held twice a year.

Related: USDA seeking to fill vacancies on National Organic Standards Board

Membership includes:

-Four organic farmers or growers;

-Three environmental or resource conservationists;

The Cornucopia Institute, an industry watchdog, filed a lawsuit against USDA alleging it appointed unqualified individuals to the National Organic Standards Board. (AVNphotolab/Thinkstock)

-Three consumer or public interest representatives;

-Two organic handlers or processors;

-One retailer;

-One scientist, and

-One USDA accredited certifying agent.

The suit

The Cornucopia Institute lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. Two organic farmers, Dominic Marchese, Ferndale, Ohio, and Rebecca Goodman, Wonewoc, Wis., who have applied for a position on the board and been turned down, have joined suit as farmer plaintiffs.

Cornucopia, an organic industry watchdog, says that two of the farmer positions are filled by agribusiness executives.

“This type of appointment is part of a pattern of actions taken by the USDA to make the NOSB and the National Organic Program friendlier to the needs of big business interests,” said Will Fantle, Cornucopia’s co-director.  “Not only are farmers being denied their voice and right to participate in organic decision-making, but statistics illustrate the corporate representatives sitting in farmer seats have been decisively more willing to vote for the use of questionable and controversial materials in organics, weakening the organic standards.”

Machese said he has applied three times for one of the seats reserved for farmers.

“I am angry at how anyone at the USDA thinks that an agribusiness executive can represent my decades of experience working with the land and animals,” Marchese said. He raises certified organic grass-fed beef.

“We know from our FOIA requests that there were many other certified organic farmers who had applied and were also rejected by the USDA in favor of agribusiness interests,” Fantle said.

Related: Lawsuit challenges USDA changes to organic farming standards

Allegations

The allegations in the suit include:

-USDA appointed unqualified individuals to the board in violation of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.

-USDA “has an obligation to administer the program in a way that is faithful to Congressional intent in crafting the program.”

-USDA has appointed members that violate the board’s composition requirements.

-USDA has undermined the public’s confident in certified organic foods by failing to appoint members as outlined in the legislation setting up the board.

-As a result of the appointments, several provisions and board policies were changed that make the board hostile to the public interests it was created to protect.

The Agricultural Marketing Service did not respond to a request for comment.

Meeting

The spring meeting of the National Organic Standards Board begins April 25 in Washington, D.C. One of the issues before the panel is a wholesale rewrite of the Policy and Procedure Manual (PPM), the framework for the operation of the NOSB.

Source: The Cornucopia Institute

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