Organic Groups Fight for Clean Compost

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Environmental groups sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture for allowing organic farmers to compost materials treated with synthetic pesticides, such as lawn clippings.
     The Center for Environmental Health et al. say the USDA should have allowed public comment before it changed the compost regulations.
     With co-plaintiffs the Center for Food Safety and Beyond Pesticides, the groups challenge the “Contaminated-Compost decision,” which was issued in 2010.
     Before the decision, the Organic Foods Production Act prevented organic producers from composting any materials that contained synthetic pesticides.
     The groups claim that issuance of the decision without public notice violated the Administrative Procedure Act and harms consumers by “weakening organic integrity, creating inconsistent organic production standards, and demonstrating arbitrary and capricious application of administrative functions.”
     The USDA did not define or explain how it would measure contamination of crops, soil or water, nor did it explain how producers would reconcile the new rule with contrary regulations, according to the complaint.
     The decision also changed the legal status of several pesticides.
     The groups say the USDA “negated their procedural rights, as organic stakeholders, to meaningfully participate in an important rulemaking process.”
     And, they say, the ruling will mislead consumers who buy organic foods, “because they know a fundamental tenet of the organic standard is the general prohibition on the use of synthetic pesticides.”
     They ask the court to vacate the decision until the USDA submits it for public comment.
     Neither side could be reached for comment Wednesday.
     The plaintiffs are represented by George Kimbrell, with the Center for Food Safety in San Francisco.

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