Grist magazine reports that the Bush Administration, at the behest of agribusiness lobbyists, has quietly taken several actions to weaken national standards for organic food. The Department of Agriculture made the changes without allowing public comment or feedback from the National Organic Standards Board, an advisory panel that is supposed to review changes to the standards. By keeping the changes quiet, USDA avoided a repeat of last year, when a Georgia congressman tried to weaken the standards so a farmer in his district could call his chickens organic. EWG's work to alert the public to the scheme generated a loud uproar and helped kill the bill.
Among the USDA's recent changes:
* Dairy farmers who treat their cows with antibiotics will be allowed to sell the milk labeled "USDA Organic."
* Cattle farmers can feed their heifers non-organic fishmeal (the same PCB-polluted feed that results in farmed salmon with high contaminant levels) and still sell the beef as organic.
* Organic farmers, previously required to use only pest controls they were certain were natural and non-toxic (thus excluding pesticides with "secret" ingredients, hidden by pesticide manufacturers claiming proprietary reasons,) are now allowed to use some synthetic pesticides if the make a "reasonable effort" to determine that the pesticide products they use contain no toxic or non-natural pesticides.