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USDA organic exemption change rankles consumer and environmental groups

The agency quietly changed the process for exempting otherwise prohibited substances in food labeled organic.

September 19, 2013
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USDA changes the process for organic exemption

A statement from groups including the Consumers Union, Food & Water Watch, Beyond Pesticides and the Center for Food Safety slammed USDA for changing the process for exempting otherwise prohibited substances such as synthetics in food carrying organic labeling. Before the amendment, substances not normally permitted in production were granted five-year exemptions under extenuating circumstances, in order to encourage the development of organic or natural alternatives. In order to stay exempt, a substance would need to be reinstated by a two-thirds vote of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

USDA's change would allow an exempt material to stay on the list indefinitely unless removed by a two-thirds vote of the NOSB, effectively shifting the burden of identifying exempted materials onto consumers and environmentalists, according to the joint statement. The policy also allows USDA to relist exemptions for synthetic materials without the recommendation of an independent board and outside of public view.

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