Yesterday a federal court in California denied a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging its allowance of pesticide-contaminated compost in organic food production without a formal rulemaking and a public comment period. Crag filed the lawsuit in April on behalf of Center for Food Safety (CFS), Center for Environmental Health, and Beyond Pesticides.  USDA had argued that it could unilaterally open the new loophole through a guidance document, without giving the public and organic stakeholders the opportunity to participate and object.

CFS senior attorney George Kimbrell, co-counsel in the case, lauded the decision: “We applaud the Court’s decision denying USDA’s motion, and ordering the case to move forward. The agency’s unilateral action to allow compost contaminated with pesticides in organic production was contrary to federal rulemaking requirements as well as contrary to the high standards of organic integrity. We will continue to represent the organic community in holding USDA accountable.”

“The judge clearly recognizes consumers’ right to uphold the integrity of organic foods. This is a major victory for public participation in the organic policy-making process,” added Lisa Bunin, Ph.D, senior organic policy director at Center for Food Safety.

Prior to the new contaminated compost guidance, organic regulations expressly prohibited fertilizers and compost from containing any synthetic substances not included on Organic’s National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. According to Crag Co-Executive Director, Ralph Bloemers, “the new guidance radically changes organic requirements, allowing organic producers to use compost materials treated with synthetic pesticides.” The USDA made the change without the required rulemaking process, usurping the public’s right to ensure USDA activities are consistent with the Organic Food Production Act (OFPA).

OFPA requires that compost producers are responsible for identifying sources of feedstocks used in compost to ensure that only allowable plant and animal materials make their way into compost. The new NOP guidance violates OFPA by allowing green waste in compost to contain pesticide residues.

“In implementing organic law and growing the organic market with integrity, USDA must facilitate public input to ensure that it considers all the relevant science and current information on allowed practices and materials,” said Jay Feldman, executive director at Beyond Pesticides.

“USDA’s actions weaken the integrity of organic food production, not only by creating inconsistent organic production standards, but also by undermining the essential public participation function of organic policy-making,” said Charles Margulis of the Center for Environmental Health.

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