Elections do matter, part the 8497th. Under the Bush administration, topics like food safety and compliance with organic regulations were deemed not important, and thus not enforced. Listen to some of these excuses the USDA made for why they couldn’t bother to do their jobs:
Under normal circumstances, the program gives preliminary accreditation to certifying agents based on a review of paperwork they submit. That allows them to begin certifying and inspecting organic producers and processors. But the program is supposed to follow up with a site visit to inspect a certifier’s operations before making accreditation permanent.
In five cases, the inspector general found, officials failed to make the follow-up visits, allowing the certifiers to operate for as long as seven years with only preliminary accreditation.
Officials at the program said that in three cases, involving certifiers operating in Bolivia, Israel and Turkey, they did not send staff members to make the inspections because the State Department had issued travel warnings about potentially dangerous conditions in those countries.
In two other cases, involving certifying agents in Australia and Canada, officials said that scheduling problems blocked them from arranging visits — in one instance for as long as five years.
[Click to continue reading U.S. to Ensure Spot Tests of Organic Foods – NYTimes.com]
A joke, in other words.
Theoretically, the USDA is going to change its mission, and actually figure out how to make sure organic items in the grocery store are what they say they are, but since the USDA’s mission has been to support agribusinesses for most of its tenure, I’m skeptical until I see some actual results.
The Department of Agriculture said on Friday that it would begin enforcing rules requiring the spot testing of organically grown foods for traces of pesticides, after an auditor exposed major gaps in federal oversight of the organic food industry.
Spot testing is required by a 1990 law that established the basis for national organic standards, but in a report released on Thursday by the office of Phyllis K. Fong, the inspector general of agriculture, investigators wrote that regulators never made sure the testing was being carried out.
The report pointed to numerous shortcomings at the agriculture department’s National Organic Program, which regulates the industry, including poor oversight of some organic operations overseas and a lack of urgency in cracking down on marketers of bogus organic products.
At least they are increasing the budget, a bit. In the federal budget, these still are afterthought numbers, less than the cost of one day in Iraq, but it is a step in the right direction at least. Perhaps the producers of organic products could contribute a fraction of their sales?
The organic program’s budget increased to $6.9 million for the current fiscal year, from $3.9 million the previous year, Mr. McEvoy said, while its staff is slated to nearly double, to 31 from 16. The Obama administration is seeking to increase the budget to $10 million in the next fiscal year and allow the program to expand to about 40 employees.
Sales of organic products reached $26 billion last year and, until the recession hit, had been growing by double-digit percentages each year.
$6,900,000 ÷ $26,000,000,000 = 0.02653846153846155%, give or take, and still seems like a pittance to me.