Leahy Hails USDA’s Acceptance of I.G.’s Findings in Organic Program Audit
WASHINGTON, March 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ – Following are the comments of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on the USDA Inspector General’s audit of the national organic standards and labeling program, released Thursday. Leahy is the “father” of the national program and author of the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act. Leahy also led on the Senate Appropriations Committee in securing funds for the audit. The report is now available on the Inspector General’s website in the “What’s New” section (www.usda.gov/oig).
“I am pleased that this administration has made strengthening USDA’s National Organic Program a top priority.
The OIG audit has helped identify areas in the organic program that need strengthening and offers constructive guidance in the steps necessary to help ensure that the USDA Organic label lives up to consumer expectations and keeps faith with producers who are following the rules.
“As important as the Inspector General’s recommendations are, to me it is equally important that USDA accepts them and pledges to act on them.
“The organic industry has grown at double digit rates over the last decade and, with sales of $24.6 billion in 2008, now accounts for 3 percent of all U.S. food sales. Vermont has been an early leader in organic agriculture, and this rapidly growing sector is helping to diversify our agriculture economy.
“The National Organic Program (NOP) will play a crucial role in monitoring and maintaining compliance with all organic regulations. I support and will work on the Appropriations Committee to advance the President’s request for $10.8 million for the NOP — a much needed increase of $3.11 million over last year’s funding level. The Administration echoes the Inspector General’s findings by targeting these added resources to regulatory review, enforcement and international equivalency agreements.
“Moving forward the NOP will continue to assure customers that organic products meet uniform standards, and NOP is now developing an administrative sanctions policy that will specify when civil penalties or other enforcement actions are warranted in response to violations of organic regulations.
“The organic standards and labeling program is still young, and these are crucial formative years. This audit will help us clean the slate from a recent period of coasting by strengthening the program where it needs strengthening. Today’s USDA is a champion of the organic program, not merely a reluctant caretaker. Remedial steps now will help take organic agriculture in Vermont and across the nation to the next level.”
SOURCE Office of U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy