Maine Organic Farmers Group Joins Lawsuit Against USDA | Maine Public Broadcasting

By Jay Field | April 8, 2015

UNITY, Maine – The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has joined groups across the country in a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In the suit, the groups charge that the department changed a key rule, without public comment, governing how synthetic and prohibited natural substances can be used in the production of organic food.

This story begins with the Organic Foods Production Act. Congress passed the measure in 1990. It set standards for organic certification. It also created the National Organic standards Board to oversee – in the absence of healthier alternatives – which synthetic materials could be used in the production and processing of organic food.

Under USDA rules, these materials would automatically exit a National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances after five years – unless, after considering public comment, two-thirds of the members of the organic standards board voted to keep them there.

But in September 2013, the department tweaked the process, without public input. Synthetic materials now stay on the national list, unless the standards board says they have to go.

“It’s our feeling that that action violates a basic principle within the organic movement,” says Ted Quaday. That principle, Quaday says, is that there always be robust public participation in organic policy making.

Quaday, who heads the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, or MOFGA, says the USDA made this key rule change without any input from organic groups or members of the public.

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