Government Asks General Mills For Advice On Organic Standards

Consumers are frequently being ignored when it comes to maintaining strict National Organic Standards, while industry is being offered an ever-increasing voice. The Organic Consumers Association and the Consumers Union have filed a complaint with the USDA regarding recent appointments of industry representatives as "consumer representatives" to the organic community's watchdog panel over organic standards. Congressional legislation on organic standards, passed in 1990, created a special organic advisory board to help oversee and develop organic standards. This panel of experts is known as the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

Federal law indicates that the NOSB must be a balanced Board representing the broad interests of the organic community, and include four farmers, two handlers/processors, one retailer, one scientist, three consumer advocates, three environmentalists, and one certifying agent. Recently, the USDA broke traditional consensus by appointing five new members to the NOSB without any public comment.

The consumer representative seats were handed over to industry by the USDA, ignoring qualified candidates from the consumer sector. New so-called "consumer representatives" included Katrina Heinze, a manager at General Mills, and Daniel Giacomini, a consultant to the dairy industry. Just as we're going to press we have learned that General Mills, responding to OCA and public pressure, has asked that Heinze's appointment as "consumer representative' be cancelled. By loading the NOSB with industry representatives, the USDA threatens to undermine consumer trust in the organic label.

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