According to the Washington Post, a bill has been introduced that would double the budget for the USDA’s oversight of the organic industry to $24 million over the next 5 years. Rep. John J. Faso (R-NY) presented the legislation, which has 33 House co-sponsors, because of the growing confusion around the true meaning of the “USDA Organic” label.
The USDA’s National Organic Program is responsible for regulating the industry and defining what farming methods can be considered organic. It is meant to keep food that does not meet the organic standards from being advertised as organic. Despite this, consumers doubt the authenticity of products like milk, eggs, and imported grains that are labeled as organic.
Faso explained to the Post, “There’s a growing concern about the capacity of the Agriculture Department to accurately monitor products that are labelled organic but may not actually be. Because you can get a premium price, there are inevitably going to be people who will try to trick the [organic] system. Under the terms of this bill, we will gradually increase the funding that’s available to the department and the regulators, so that we can better track and monitor these products.”
Skepticism about the program revolves around the thought that products that are not actually “organic” are still obtaining the right to label themselves “USDA Organic.” Because of this, several farm groups created alternative organic labels. The Rodale Institute and Patagonia are promoting a new standard called “regenerative organic,” which fills in the gaps of the USDA’s label. Furthermore, the Organic Trade Association sued the USDA for more humane living conditions for the “organic” livestock.
Along with the budget increase, the legislation will call for the modernization of the USDA “organic” food import tracking system, allow organic inspectors to share information across a supply chain, and require officials to file an annual report to Congress reporting its organic investigations.
Many are in support of the bill, including Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-VT), who says, “We’ve built a tremendous, $47 billion industry. I’m not going to let it disappear.”