Farmers Sue USDA for Appointing Unqualified Individuals to Organics Board

lawsuit USDA

The Cornucopia Institute, a public interest group of thousands of organic farmers and consumers, and two of its members have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, alleging unqualified individuals have been put in place to determine what is “organic.”

The lawsuit points to the USDA as well as Vilsack for “appointing unqualified individuals to the National Organic Standards Board,” a committee that advises the USDA on how to implement the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act.

The National Organic Standards Board compiles the nationwide list of allowed and disallowed substances in “USDA organic” food for the entire country. The Organic Foods Protection act’s purpose is:

  • “to establish national standards governing the marketing of certain agricultural products as organically produced products;

  • to assure consumers that organically produced products meet a consistent standard; and
  • to facilitate interstate commerce in fresh and processed food that is organically produced.”

The complaint reads:

“USDA has failed this responsibility and has shirked its legal obligations by appointing individuals to the [National Organic Standards Board] NOSB that violate the [Organic Foods Production Act’s] OFPA’s board composition requirements. Further, USDA’s improper appointments violate FACA, which requires that the membership and viewpoints of a federal advisory committee be fairly balanced.”

The plaintiffs argue that positions given to the “underqualified” have deprived Cornucopia’s members of the positions, unrightfully so.

“[The defendants] do not align with the interests of owners or operators of organic farm operations over half the time. These unqualified individuals do not have the requisite experience and knowledge, and personal investment in certified organic production agriculture, to properly advocate for the interests of organic farmers.”

The individual plaintiffs, farmers Dominic Marchese and Rebecca Goodman, say that the appointees continuously voted to keep substances on the National Organic Standards Board’s list that other farmers wanted gone.

“the greater number of chemicals remaining on the National List places a drain on Cornucopia’s resources by increasing the number of chemicals Cornucopia has to review and report on in pursuit of its mission … Cornucopia estimates that it spends $600 per substance it reviews and estimates that the cost of preparing for these reviews by the [Board] NOSB over the course of a year well exceeds $100,000.”

All in all, the plaintiffs feel these issues go against the well-being of the general public.

“The American people have a right to trust that food certified as organic is free of inappropriate or inadequately reviewed synthetic substances that do not comport with the [Organic Foods Production Act] OFPA,” the complaint states.