Call for transparency: OrganicEye urges USDA to regulate organic labeling amidst concerns over synthetic products in the food system

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organic-labeling(NaturalHealth365)  Can we still trust the “Certified Organic” food labels?  Or are we facing a new era where Big Agriculture controls organic food agencies with the ultimate motive of protecting its bottom line rather than protecting consumer health?

According to Children’s Health Defense, the agricultural business watchdog group OrganicEye recently filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in order “to establish formal regulatory oversight for the public and private organizations that determine what products can be labeled organic.”  Let’s find out why this action is so needed.

USDA called out: Keep food manufacturers accountable, organic watchdog group demands

The concern over what can or can’t be labeled as “organic” recently found its way into headlines again after the Silicon Valley company Apeel Sciences released a new product known as Apeel, to be used as a coating on fresh produce – including so-called “organic” fruits and veggies – in order to extend its shelf life and reportedly reduce food waste.  Labeled as “plant-based” and registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a fungicide, the novel coating has been criticized for being made with synthetic ingredients and calls into question the validity with which products can be marketed as “organic” to the American public.

In response, OrganicEye called on the USDA via a petition to “create a new layer of accountability in the approval of synthetic and non-organic materials being allowed for use in organic food production.”

In a June 19, 2023 article published on its website, OrganicEye notes that Big Ag-affiliated members of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), “along with a corporate-funded, unregulated, quasi-nonprofit” Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), determine what is safe and unsafe on behalf of the organic community.”  One glaring problem with this?  Executive Director Mark Kastel points out that the “vast preponderance” of OMRI’s income actually comes from fees paid by corporations “seeking approval for materials they manufacture and annual subscriptions from for-profit certifiers accessing their data.”

Hmm … regulatory agencies having close financial ties with the companies they are supposed to oversee … sounds like a major conflict of interest, doesn’t it?  (And eerily reminiscent of the conflict of interest between the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Big Pharma, for that matter.)

Kastel puts his concerns strongly: “What has seriously undermined the credibility of organic food safety is that, after the NOSB gets done with their reviews, all too often kowtowing to food industry interests in approving generic substances, the responsibility for reviewing branded and formulated products (food ingredients and agricultural inputs) is handed off to an industry-led and funded nonprofit, [the OMRI].”

He continues, “When the system is working properly, organic consumers have an extra layer of careful review for any non-organic material used in their food production.  However, the dependence on the corporate sector and lobbyists to protect the interests of the public is obviously disconcerting.”

Surprising problems with industry-made produce coatings

In addition to their petition to the USDA, OrganicEye also recently released a white paper discussing many of the potential problems associated with food coatings like Apeel.  In fact, many of these coatings, OrganicEye explains, contain potential allergens, animal products, and other compounds (including known carcinogens) that could prove problematic for people with certain dietary restrictions and personal or religious beliefs.

Will the USDA help improve transparency and accountability of these Agribusinesses?  Time will tell.  In the meantime, change is called for, many say.

“The conflicts of interest in this process are mind-boggling,” Kastel says.  “It’s time for the USDA to change direction to comply with the intent of Congress and save the value of the organic label for ethical farmers and their loyal customers.”

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