GENTECH archive 8.96-97


OFMA Original Draft Executive Summary to Codex

Eric Kindberg, principal author, assisted by:
Cecilia Bowman, Colleen Thomas, Allen Moody, Steven Sprinkel, and Bill Welsh

April 7, 1997

Executive Summary
We are delighted to have the opportunity to provide this analysis and
commentary to the Codex Commission and its delegates. This work reflects our
experience as organic producers, consumers, organic certification
administrators in the private sector, and participants in the evolution of
standards for organic food and fiber production and handling in the United
States.  The Organic Farmers Marketing Association is a multi-national
organization, with representation in Canada and Mexico, and we recognize and
carry the interests of  those stakeholders in the organic community.

We conclude that an international standard for the labeling of products as
organic, biological,  and ecological ( and non-English language translations
of those terms ), must be based on a system of production that has clearly
defined criteria, that this criteria should have consistent language,  and
that the multitude of procedures for inspection, certification and
accreditation be clarified by and made plain by consistent terms.

Organic producers and consumers have a historical relationship that is
characterized by the purity of the product.  A belief in the transparency and
mutuality of this association results. We know that any standard for organic
labeling must embody in its purity of language that same kind of awareness.
No matter where the product was produced, the system for production,
handling, certification and labeling should be therefore unambiguous.  It has
been our experience that if we can first arrive at a clearly defined system
and criteria,  then the method for reaching agreement on substances allowed,
 the accreditation of certifying agencies, government oversight and other key
elements can be more efficiently followed.

Our following analysis and commentary  points out significant differences
between the U.S. Organic foods Act of 1990 and the Codex Draft Guidelines,
and on occasion suggests some potential improvements to the U.S. National
Organic Program that are observed in the Codex document.  

The differences arise in most cases because the method for creating the Draft
Standards is not governed by an overview which would first create the kinds
of criteria and procedures required to compare and make equivalent the
various national and private organic programs which will conform to Codex.
The improvements to U.S. standards are viewed in that same context: that they
clarify the system. A better document than the Organic foods Production Act
 can therefore be made of the Codex Draft Guidelines if we can adopt a system
and  more thoughtful, scientific criteria.

Many of the deficient  examples we cite here seem to arise from trying find
language that can include broad meanings of various concepts, such as
certification and accreditation,  without grounding the concept first in a
system with unambiguous criteria.  Equivalency, for example, can only be
measured in the full context of production and certification systems, and
without comprehensive criteria deficiencies will result.

Such deficiencies would not clarify for processors of organically produced
foods in the United States what equivalency actually is if the product they
process is composed of products from other countries operating under
dissimilar criteria,  but must still conform to USDA standards. The
appropriate labeling becomes problematic, and a barrier to free trade may
result.  We now have many processors in the United States who obtain
certified organic products in processed form from other nations. These U.S.
processors in turn add local ingredients to their finished product, which is
labeled with the certification seal of a certifying agent, the standards of
which may not entirely be in strict, scientific agreement with those from
where the foreign products were obtained. 

In The Codex Draft Standards, Section 7.1 still does not remedy this kind of
 inequity. The United States wants to retain its system for accepting and
prohibiting synthetic production and processing substances and still keep its
borders open to as many imported products as possible. We have reviewed the
"Approved and Prohibited Substances"  lists of many nations and private
organic certification programs, and find that amid all the dissimilarities
these lists are in agreement on one point:  the vast number of exemptions
granted to synthetic processing aids in particular indicates the absence of a
scientific model which can be used to obtain the uniformity required.  

Our analysis is based in part on the National List Procedure in the Organic
Foods Production Act, to which we refer specifically to point out specific
inconsistencies with the Draft Guidelines, and generally in calling for the
adoption of a Codex Procedure that would facilitate the creation of an
International List.

Only the creation of such a Procedure within the context of the Codex
Guidelines will provide a means of adopting an International List that all
stakeholders will be able to reference, and which will eliminate the barriers
to trade.  Moreover, by adopting  a method of this kind,  the entire process
for creating final Codex Guidelines for Production, Processing, Labeling, and
Marketing of Organically Produced Foods will be made more efficient.
 Implementation and continued improvement will also benefit.

Consumers should be remembered in these deliberations.  If not for the
continued, growing response from the public for organically produced products
none of  our rulemaking would be required.  The public interest therefore
must always be our interest. Organic consumers demand products that  are a
market driven approach to correcting environmental degradation and
contamination because of agricultural excess. Organic products represent a
system of agriculture whose standards prevent synthetic contamination.  To
contaminate organic standards with processes and substances universally
recognized as the root of our agricultural maladies is to ignore the salient
importance of what the Codex Guidelines may portend for all of agriculture.
We are all aware of the increasing comment on and protest  of the use of
"genetically engineered " or "genetically modified " organisms in our food
supply, and of recent  proposed regulation to prohibit these products in
conventional food production. This proposed  regulation is almost entirely in
response to consumer concern that insufficient scientific review has been
made. The Codex Draft Guidelines will address prohibition as well. As we
begin that work, we suggest that a scientific and historical review of such
technology be part of the proceedings, and that comprehensive procedures and
criteria be adopted to deal with this technology as it relates to organic
food production and processing.

We conclude that the guidelines-writing process has not yet matured
sufficiently in order to proceed forward towards final adoption. Therefore we
urge the Delegates to the Codex Alimentarius Commission for the time and
commitment to help create a lasting standard which will strictly
differentiate organically produced products from other systems of production.