This week's dose of organic headlines, updates, resources, goodies, and recipes courtesy of dsnodgrass...
File this under "beaking news from the department of the obvious". The USDA Inspector General's office confirms what many of us have been saying, including organic watchdog, The Cornucopia Institute:
After an extensive audit and investigation of alleged improprieties at the USDA’s National Organic Program, the agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) made public their formal report, dated March 9, substantiating the allegations of prominent organic industry watchdog groups — that under the Bush administration, the USDA did an inadequate job of enforcing federal organic law.
Since 2002, when the USDA adopted the federal organic regulations, the agency has been plagued by underfunding and a number of scandals and complaints about its cozy relationship with agribusiness interests and lobbyists.
“We are satisfied with the thoroughness of the investigation conducted by the USDA’s Inspector General,” said Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute. “And, we are pleased and impressed by the earnest response of the current management at the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), and its National Organic Program, in responding to the report’s critical findings.”
Some of the most troubling findings of the new audit include not following through on enforcement after violations were confirmed by federal law enforcement investigators. When enforcement was pursued, the USDA sometimes delayed action for as long as 32 months. And the NOP could not document for OIG investigators the status of 19 complaints it had received, since 2004, that alleged illegal activity.
The report pointed out that the State of California, which was given authority to oversee the USDA’s organic standards in that state, was woefully inadequate in its oversight and enforcement capabilities. With growing organic imports, from countries like China, the audit also found that foreign certifiers were not properly supervised.
This has some relevance to the story directly above. Two weeks ago, I wrote about a federal hearing which could have ordered a nationwide halt to the planting and use of genetically modified sugar beets while the USDA conducts an environmental impact assessment. The judge in that case has issued his decision, and it's a mixed bag. In essence, the judge appears to be aiming for a compromise position which looks to give farmers who are growing genetically modified sugar beets the time frame of a growing season to convert to non-gm crops.
Farmers will be allowed to plant genetically modified sugar beets this year but should be prepared not to use the crop in future seasons, a federal judge in San Francisco ordered yesterday.
The ruling will prevent farmers from being forced to pull beets out of the ground or scramble for new seeds as the growing season begins. The beets have become so entrenched that -- should their planting have been banned -- there would not have been enough conventional seeds for a full crop this year, the court said. The economic losses of an immediate ban could have totaled up to $1.5 billion, it added.
But farmers and seed companies should not become complacent in using the genetically modified (GM) beets, Judge Jeffrey White of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California wrote in his order denying a temporary injunction against planting.
"The parties should not assume that the court's decision to deny a preliminary injunction is indicative of its views on a permanent injunction," White wrote. Until the U.S. Agriculture Department completes its court-ordered re-evaluation of the beets' environmental effects, White suggested that companies "take all efforts, going forward, to use conventional seed."
This summer, White will consider whether to ban the beets in future seasons, pending the environmental review. And in those considerations, he wrote, "the balance ... may likely shift when the court considers whether to issue permanent injunction."
Here's an interesting look at the inherent difficulties of running an organic business from China.
Beijing Organic and Beyond Corp Chairman Zhang Xiangdong has a shoe leather approach to organic fruit and vegetable sales in China's capital that is a lesson for any firm trying to enter the world's biggest food market.
Zhang came back from the United States in 2005 and started to grow organic fruits, vegetables and rice and delivers supplies directly to friends in Beijing to get word out in the market.
Major supermarket chains like France's Carrefour (CARR.PA) also try and convince Chinese consumers about organic products through massive promotions to pay more for items from soy to pork called organic or some variation like healthy.
But Zhang says trust needs to be earned one customer at a time. "We are working hard to establish our brand. Only with a good brand can consumers trust you," Zhang said.
Still Zhang faces skepticism from potential customers that have contended with adulterated food outbreaks in the past few years from milk tainted with the chemical melamine to last month's widely publicized reports of toxic cowpeas grown in Hainan province.
Finally, I want to continue to encourage you to support organic food growers whenever you can. To that end, I'll help you defray the cost somewhat with a directory of coupons from several different companies which sell organics.
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