A continuing rift between the organic food industry and U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program over controversial policy issues has forced manufacturers to put on hold introductions of new products in beauty care, seafood and pet food, among other items.
At the heart of it all are four major policy changes -- issued last April without public notice and with no input from the organic industry -- that altered previously held decisions on pesticides, livestock feed and the use of antibiotics in dairy cattle. The modifications also reversed a two-year-old policy encouraging the industry to develop body care, pet food, fish, and soil amendment products.
Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman stepped in and rescinded the highly controversial directives after a public outcry, but relations between the NOP and its advisory committee, the National Organic Standards Board, have remain strained.
Despite a cordial meeting this summer between the industry, Veneman and the NOP, Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association, Greenfield, Mass., said the industry and the NOP have about a "50-50 chance of getting to the same place" on the regulations regarding these products, which have yet to be finalized.
Such inconsistencies create problems for certifying agencies, which must enforce national regulations and verify that clients are following the rules. Lynn Coody, a consultant who works on compliance issues for certifiers, said she is concerned that NOP is getting between certifiers and their clients.
"The rulings are not consistent, and that is a problem for certifiers," she said. "When the the NOP is not clear, it puts [manufacturers and processors] in a very difficult position."