Capital Press
Editorial

USDACorruptCritics say the head of the National Organic Program is keeping secret the names of experts used to formulate policy, has failed to vigorously enforce regulations and punish violators, and is acting at the behest of large corporations.

We’ve grown used to regulators in the Obama administration taking arbitrary, heavy-handed action, so we weren’t surprised to hear another agency has come under scrutiny.

But we were a bit surprised to hear the charges are being leveled at Miles McEvoy, the head of the National Organic Program, by the same organizations that sang his praises when he was appointed to run the program in 2009.

McEvoy has a long resume in the organics industry. He was Washington state’s first organic inspector. He was running that state’s organics program when he was tapped by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to lead the national program.

Advocacy groups were thrilled. They believed they had a true believer at the helm who would uphold the integrity of the program and keep it ideologically pure.

Six years later, some of those same organizations are facing off against McEvoy in federal court over his administration of the program.

Among the 14 plaintiffs were the Cornucopia Institute, the Organic Consumers Association and the environmental groups Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides and Food & Water Watch.

At issue is McEvoy’s decision to change the decision-making process for which synthetic substances are allowed to remain in organic production. The lawsuit claims the USDA violated administrative law by implementing the new rule without public comment.

Separate from the lawsuit, critics say McEvoy is keeping secret the names of experts the program uses to formulate policy, has failed to vigorously enforce regulations and punish violators, and — the greatest of all sins — is acting at the behest of large corporations that want to capitalize on the growing popularity of organics.

Critics say McEvoy’s policies seem aimed at removing obstacles to the way he wants to run the National Organic Program, such as when he disbanded a key policy-setting committee, stripped the National Organic Standards Board of the ability to set its own agenda and otherwise undermined the board’s authority.

“We have a government agency operating by fiat,” Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, told the Capital Press.

Not just one.

That fairly describes much of the Obama administration of the last seven years, particularly those agencies known and feared by farmers and ranchers. The Environmental Protection Agency’s water regulations and the Labor Department’s “hot goods” thuggery come to mind.

Those agencies — and many others, no doubt — are filled with true believers who aren’t going to let rules, regulations or even the Constitution get in the way of doing what they see as the Lord’s work.

Government agencies are bound by the law, and are not a law onto themselves. That’s true whether they work for a Republican or a Democrat in the White House.

While we don’t agree when it comes to large-scale organic farming operations, we agree with the plaintiffs as they press the government to follow procedures and maintain transparency.

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