USDA Advisory Panel Sends Clear Message
WASHINGTON, DC — The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), an expert advisory panel to the USDA’s National Organic Program, has made it clear that organic agriculture should not allow the use of cloned animals or their offspring in the production of organic food. The NOSB voted at their spring meeting in Washington, DC to exclude cloned animals, their offspring, and any food products from cloned animals from the organic sector.
“This is a victory for farmers, consumers and retailers who want to protect organic food and agriculture from a highly controversial and experimental technology,” said Will Fantle of The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy and organic watchdog group. “This vote seeks to plant a flag squarely in the center of the organic food sector, declaring it off limits to cloning while providing consumers a clear choice in the marketplace,” Fantle added.
The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last December that they were ready to approve the commercialization of cloning in livestock agriculture and indicated that they would not seek any identifying labels on cloned meat, dairy and other food products sold in the nation’s grocery stores. (The FDA has extended their public comment period on the cloned food recommendation to May 3. A sample letter to the FDA can be found at https://www.cornucopia.org/actionalerts/Sample_letter_to_FDA.doc.)
During its three-day meeting, NOSB members wrestled with language aimed at keeping cloning out of organics. Kevin Engelbert, vice-chair of the NOSB’s Livestock Committee and an organic dairy farmer from the state of New York, pressed hard for immediate and decisive action on the controversial technology. During the Board’s deliberations, Engelbert said “This is the time to make a strong statement.” He offered precise language that was adopted by the NOSB to address cloning and the issue of offspring from cloned animals.
The Board’s recommendation provides guidance to the National Organic Program’s administrator who stated more than once during the meeting that the NOP wanted advice from the Board on how to address cloned offspring and their food products in the organic sector. “The NOSB’s vote offers exactly that guidance, stated Fantle. “It calls for excluding all progeny of cloned animals and their ‘succeeding generations’ from organic livestock production as well as prohibiting any food products derived from animals produced with cloning technology.”
The 12-0 vote (with one abstention) occurred after the NOSB heard public comments over three days from numerous representatives of farm, consumer, retail and non-profit groups calling for the cloning ban in organics Cornucopia also presented the Board with a letter signed by 70 retailers and farm groups from across the country that supported a cloning ban.
Jim Riddle, former chair of the NOSB and author of a cloning report for the Organic Center, was pleased with the recommendation. “I am gratified to see that the NOSB has voted to prohibit cloned animals, their products, and their progeny from organic agriculture,” Riddle said. “Cloning,” added Riddle, “has no place in organic agriculture. As the FDA’s own report shows, cloning is still very experimental with a high failure rate, it’s inhumane and totally unnatural.”
Representatives from the Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, and the Organic Consumers Association were among those testifying in favor of a cloning ban in organics.
The action by the NOSB will likely add further support to a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate by Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Herb Kohl (D-WI) that would outlaw the use of cloned animals and their offspring in organic food production. The bill, S536, is currently in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.