CCOF Weighs in on Compost Lawsuit

CCOF and the Organic Trade Association (OTA) recently submitted statements representing the interests of organic producers in a federal lawsuit filed by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which challenges the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) guidance on the Allowance of Green Waste in Organic Production Systems.

The guidance states that organic standards are process-based. These processes aim to exclude pesticide residues. However, the compost may contain pesticide residues so long as those levels do not contribute to the contamination of crops, soil, or water.

CFS argues that the guidance is not valid because the NOP did not complete a formal rulemaking and public comment period. Generally, a federal agency can issue a guidance on general statements of policy, but they must complete formal rulemaking when changing or creating a standard.

According to CFS, NOP was required to complete formal rulemaking because the guidance changed organic standards to allow the use of compost materials treated with synthetic pesticides. USDA contends that the guidance did not change organic standards; rather, it clarified that organic standards allow the use of compost made with feedstock that may contain unavoidable pesticide residues.

Regardless of whether NOP should have completed formal rulemaking, CCOF is concerned that the lawsuit will result in severe and unnecessary hardship for organic producers. CCOF has always certified to the standards set forth in the guidance, even prior to the implementation of federal organic standards. If the guidance is overturned, it could open the door for new, unachievable testing and zero-detectable residue requirements for compost, which have never before been required and could drastically reduce compost availability for organic farmers.

CCOF and OTA joined Western Growers in filing declarations with the permission of the Court on the impact of overturning the guidance without a final rule in place if the Court requires NOP to revoke the guidance and complete formal rulemaking.  

CCOF expects a decision on the status of the guidance in the coming weeks. Sign up for the CCOF Newsletter to receive updates on the lawsuit and other news.