When the USDA label was first implemented in 2002, concern was expressed that certification standards would not be as stringent as the private organic labeling programs it replaced, such as the Oregon Tilth.
Prior to 2002, organic certifiers each had their own standards that they used when certifying organic produce and products. The standards were similar, but they were each different and were owned by the certifier. In 2002 the USDA National Organic Program took effect, and the NOP Final Rule became the one standard used for certifying organic products in the US. Since that time, when you pick up a product labeled organic you know that it was certified to the same standard as all other organic products, regardless of who certified it.
Now it seems those fears of a weakened national organic standard have come to fruition from lobbyists interference. The Washington Post cites an example involving infant formula.
Three years ago, U.S. Department of Agriculture employees determined that synthetic additives in organic baby formula violated federal standards and should be banned from a product carrying the federal organic label. Today the same additives, purported to boost brainpower and vision, can be found in 90 percent of organic baby formula.
Why would the USDA relax organic standards? Consumers want organic products, and the market continues to grow. It’s the “the fastest growing segment of the food industry” and is a “$23 billion-a-year business”. It appears it is now corrupted by agribusiness’ powerful lobby. The Post reports:
The market’s expansion is fueling tension over whether the federal program should be governed by a strict interpretation of “organic” or broadened to include more products by allowing trace elements of non-organic substances. The argument is not over whether the non-organics pose a health threat, but whether they weaken the integrity of the federal organic label.
A weakened organic standard only helps big business and not consumers. U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Standards Board Chairman Jeff Moyer explains, “As the organic industry matures, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find a balance between the integrity of the word ‘organic’ and the desire for the industry to grow.” Consumers can’t trust the USDA Organic logo and must instead seek out reputable companies who maintain high standards and avoid synthetic additives. In general, avoiding processed foods and purchasing from local farmers is the safest way to ensure your food is truly organic.