Following reports in the Washington Post that standards for classifying foods as organic had been relaxed, the U.S. Agriculture Department is launching an audit of its National Organic Program. The Post says that department thinks external scrutiny is needed to improve the integrity and reliability of the program.
The issue at hand is standards. Is the program following internationally recognized requirements for accrediting and monitoring nearly 100 private certifiers? Those entities determine whether foods meet federal organic standards. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is set to begin the review in October. The results will be released at the end of this year or in early 2010, complete with recommendations for USDA action.
“We applaud USDA’s willingness to submit its organic program to the rigors of these international norms and believe this will pave the way for continued growth and success of the U.S. organic industry,” Robynn Shrader, a National Organic Coalition founding member and CEO of the National Cooperative Grocers Association, said in a statement released Aug. 6.
The audit comes about a month after the Post reported that definitions for organic foods had been relaxed. For example, synthetic additives can be found in 90 percent of organic baby formula.
“It will unravel everything we’ve done if the standards can no longer be trusted,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who sponsored the federal organics legislation, told the Post in July. “If we don’t protect the brand, the organic label, the program is finished. It could disappear overnight.”