By Helen Christophi, Courthouse News Service
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Agriculture officials broke the law when they let organic farmers use compost treated with synthetic pesticides, a federal magistrate judge has ruled (pdf).
The Center for Food Safety and other environmental groups accused the U.S. Department of Agriculture last year of violating the Administrative Procedures Act by issuing a rule change to its organic standard that allowed organic farmers to use compost containing synthetic chemicals, without notifying the public or soliciting comment first.
Before the 2010 rule change NOP 5016 (pdf) was issued, national organic food regulations banned synthetic substances in compost unless the substances were on an approved list.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley vacated NOP 5016 this past week and ordered the USDA to issue revised guidance that complies with the APA.
“It was more than a slap on the wrist to have [NOP 5016] remanded,” Amy Van Saun, a legal fellow at the Center for Food Safety who worked on the case, said. “Now it remains to be seen what USDA will do with this.”
The rule change came after the California Department of Food and Agriculture barred organic farmers from using certain organic compost products after inspectors found bifenthrin in them, which is not on the list. The department administers the USDA’s National Organic Program, an organic certification program.
Bifenthrin, an insecticide used to control red imported fire ants, is highly toxic to fish and aquatic organisms, according to Cornell University’s Pesticide Management Education Program.…