Bill puts teeth in organic labels

In an effort to protect the Central Coast’s growing organic farming industry, Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, has joined upstate New York Republican congressman Richard Hanna in introducing the Organic Standards Protection Act in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bipartisan act would build on the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act by giving the federal Department of Agriculture the power “to protect the integrity of certified organic products,” according to a news release from Capps.

The problem, according to Capps, is that people are labeling and selling foods as organic that have been treated with substances prohibited under organic certification.

Authorities have not had the legislative power to stop the practice, she said. This bill would give it to them.

It would also streamline recordkeeping requirements by requiring all organic producers and certifiers to maintain and provide records to the USDA, and it would impose a civil penalty of $10,000 on those who violate the USDA’s revocation of certification.

Capps called the legislation a “win-win proposition” for organic farmers as well as consumers, “who deserve to know that all products on grocery store shelves labeled ‘USDA organic’ adhere to consistently high standards.”

According to the Organic Trade Association, the U.S. organic market in 2011 surpassed $31 billion for the first time, representing 9.5 percent growth.

The organic food industry also generated more than 500,000 American jobs in 2010.

The Central Coast ranked second in California in 2009 organic farm sales, generating more than $224 million in revenue. Capps’ district ranks 30th nationally in the number of organic farms.

The legislation is supported by the California Certified Organic Farmers, the Organic Trade Association and the National Organic Coalition, among other California agriculture and consumer groups.