April 20, 2024

USDA Changes Process for Organic Labeling

Food & Water Watch, the Center for Food Safety, and Consumers Union issued a joint statement yesterday about the USDA’s unilateral and surprising change to the organic labeling standards process, filed in the Federal Register on September 16, 2013. Under the old law, there was a controlled process for allowing otherwise prohibited synthetic and non-organic substances in organic foods because of extenuating circumstances.

Organic produceThose exemptions were for a five year period, to encourage the development of organic alternatives. The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) reversed that rule, and those prohibited substances can now be included in organic products indefinitely unless specific action is taken.

The USDA made this decision without the two-thirds “decisive” majority vote of the National Organics Standards Board (NOSB) and without a public review. The burden of identifying exempted materials for removal will now fall onto environmentalists and consumers. An exempt material could be permitted indefinitely, “unless a two-thirds majority of the NOSB votes to remove an exempted (synthetic) substance from the list,” according to the statement.

The groups said, “The USDA’s decision minimizes all incentives for creating organic, natural alternative ingredients and lowers the standard for what consumers can expect behind the organic label. Allowing the USDA to automatically relist materials without the recommendation of the NOSB erodes the Board’s legal authority over materials decisions, a key to consumer trust in the organic label. The fact that the agency made this decision without any public input only adds to the violation felt by watchdog groups and consumers alike.”

This change lowers the bar for the organic market. The old system of vetting substances every five years gave organic food producers flexibility, has kept the majority of synthetic substances out of organic products, and was leading to a decrease of synthetic ingredients in organic products over time. The new policy gets rid of the incentive to develop organic alternatives.

Dr. Lisa Brunin, Organic Policy Director for Center for Food Safety said in a statement, “This unfortunate turn in NOP policy will allow many more exempted substances to languish in organic products indefinitely. The new NOP policy fundamentally undermines one of the core tenants of the organic rule – keeping synthetics and non-organic ingredients out of organic”


  1. Stiffie Fornicatesthedead says

    Seems like the only way around the nonsense is to shop locally — support your local CSA or farmers market. They do not allow GMO foods at my local farmers market. OR buy ingredients that are 100% organic, that is SINGLE INGREDIENT ORGANIC FOODS and prepare foods yourself, instead of always going for the processed prepackaged junk.

  2. Maria Concilio says

    We can grow our own. One company that I will forever trust is Nature’s Path. They don’t seem to be owned by anyone and I doubt they will change the way they are running things . Also, Cornucopia does a fantastic job of keeping us informed of the egg and milk products we can trust.

  3. Thanks to a small but significant change suggested by T. Matthew Phillips, the following:

    Had I written the law that San Francisco approved but California defeated, it would have said something like:

    1. Packaged items sold in California for internal consumption by mammals shall display the same logotype representing ingredients for which a patent is pending or has been granted as used by the European Union to identify such items in a type size at least two points greater than that used on the product’s ingredients list.

    2. Pre-packaged items sold in California for internal consumption by mammals shall display the same logotype representing ingredients for which a patent is pending or has been granted as used by the European Union with the product’s price in a type size equal to, or greater, than the product’s labeled price.

    It should be a Federal law but you also know that that will never happen. California is such a big market that our labels would become the nation’s labels.

  4. Marilyn Martucci says

    The new NOP policy fundamentally undermines one of the core tenants of the organic rule – keeping synthetics and non-organic ingredients out of organic” It undermines one of the core TENETS of the organic rule, and I am not happy about that.

  5. what are these substances and where can we find a list?

  6. Erica Elliot says

    I AM OUTRAGED!!!! What ever happened to the Legislative and Judicial branches of the United States Government. This is a patent violation of standards set by a Court of Law. or does no one in government give a hoot? We used to set the standards for anti-pollution for all natural resources.

  7. Depressing, but not surprising since many organic brands are owned by junk food pushers. Concerned consumers and real organic farmers know the USDA is owned by the GMO cartel, and since people that want to avoid their freak “food” trust organics, they were bound to subvert organic standards, they want eveyone to have to eat more chemicals and crap to support their partner corporations huge profits.

  8. Canyon traveler says

    The saying “boxing ourselves into a corner” comes to mind. If action isn’t taken quickly to prevent the contamination of pure foods, the next generation will not enjoy them. Corporations proceed blindly without regard for the consequences of what they do. I almost understand that, they’re bottom line is to make money. The problem here is the corruption of our government. Perhaps rather than marching against Monsanto, we should be marching to demand an immediate revision of the FDA & EPA !

  9. Corporations that keep standards high will prosper, the others will not and until they let them omit ingredients on products, we can still read the labels.

    • This is horrific and disgusting. It’s as if they are trying to poison the populace and deny us our rights of choice. These people are monsters. How do you read the label on a vegetable? Answer… you don’t. Something MUST be done. This is a disaster. I am SO disgusted and angered at the government. They are supposed to protect US, not the corporations!

      • Vegan Rabbit says

        Right! Of the people, by the people, for the people. Not of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations. This is sickening.

  10. I am extremely disappointed and disgusted with our ‘leadership’ for caving in to corporate interests and allowing this elimination of anything meaningful in the ‘organic’ label, and the corporate takeover of our food supply, replete with toxic chemicals and genetic modification. This is the wrong direction to take, and those who want to avoid chemicals and wacky genes must grow their own, and hope something doesn’t blow in from a neighbor and contaminate their crops. This will not end well. One hopes that the responsible corporate board members and congressional reps will reap the rewards of their own stupidity. At least the EU had enough sense to disallow this, so one could go there to avoid it.

  11. This is a usual scheme to which corporations has taken advantage for several years.

  12. This is not surprising. Corporations have been running the country for quite awhile. They bought and paid for it, they own it. Shame we are going to lose organic foods, the only safe choice we had.

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