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Iowa State University researchers have reportedly developed an inexpensive method to test whether milk was produced by grass-fed cows. Fluorescence spectroscopy, which measures light to identify the amount of chlorophyll metabolized by cows, may help regulators enforce organic milk standards requiring cows to eat a minimum of 30 percent foraged grass. The researchers reportedly found that cows fed grass only had about three times as many chlorophyll metabolites as grain- and silage-fed cows, while the organic milk samples they tested had about twice as many chlorophyll metabolites as the grain- and silage-fed cows.

A group of organic food producers, retailers and certifiers has published a full-page advertisement in The Washington Post containing the text of a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue expressing the group’s objection to the withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule. In the letter, the group says the elimination of the rule is “an affront to the many people and organizations engaged in a multi-year, transparent, and highly participatory process that resulted in an animal welfare standard overwhelmingly supported by organic farmers, organic companies, humane animal care advocates, and consumers . . . . Eliminating the rule not only fails to acknowledge innovation in the organic farming sector and provide fair and transparent rules, it also undermines the faith people have in how organic agriculture is governed.” The letter had 25 signatories, including Organic Valley, Whole Foods Market, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Humane Society of…

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) seeks public comment on proposed amendments to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances that would change restrictions on some items and allow new ones. Among the changes that USDA proposes are the suggested additions of activated charcoal, mineral oil, nutritive supplements and propylene glycol. The deadline for submission of public comment is March 19, 2018.

A federal court has dismissed a lawsuit alleging Earth’s Best falsely labels its infant and toddler foods as organic, asserting that the foods contain at least 29 ingredients not permitted to be labeled as such under the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 (OFPA). Organic Consumers Ass’n v. Hain Celestial Grp., Inc., No. 16-0925 (D.D.C., entered January 3, 2018). Although the court found the plaintiff advocacy group had standing to sue because it expended resources to challenge Hain Celestial’s labeling practices, it determined that the plaintiff’s claims were preempted by the OFPA. The court found that “in enacting the OFPA, Congress could not have been clearer about its purposes” to establish national standards for organically produced products, ensure organic products met a consistent standard and facilitate interstate commerce of organic foods. The plaintiff’s lawsuit, the court held, was premised on an allegation that Hain Celestial violated District of Columbia law by mislabeling…

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has delayed the effective date of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule until May 14, 2018. The rule’s original effective date was set for January 19, 2017. According to the announcement, “significant policy and legal issues addressed within the final rule warranted further review by USDA.” In September 2017, the Organic Trade Association sued USDA for delays in the effective date, including a request for an order to enjoin the agency from further postponing the rule’s implementation.

Researchers have reportedly found that consumers are unsure what "natural," “organic” and “Non-GMO Project Verified” mean when the phrases appear on food labels. Konstantinos G. Syrengelas et al., "Is the Natural Label Misleading? Examining Consumer Preferences for Natural Beef," Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, October 2017; Brandon R. McFadden, et al., “Effects of the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard: Willingness to Pay for Labels that Communicate the Presence or Absence of Genetic Modification,” Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, October 2017. To investigate a petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture asserting that "natural" labeling misleads consumers, researchers conducted an online choice experiment to determine whether including a definition of "natural" on a label deterred or encouraged study participants to pay a premium for steak. The researchers apparently found that the participants were unwilling to pay a premium if they either identified themselves as familiar with the definition of "natural" or if they…

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that all online and mail-order sellers of organic products—including small producers and sellers that would otherwise be exempt from the requirements—must obtain sales permits to avoid fraud and mislabeling and maintain “consumer confidence” in products labeled as organic. Kamin und Grill Shop GmbH v. Zentrale zur Bekampfung unlauteren Wettbewerbs eV, No. C-289/16 (ECJ, entered October 12, 2017). Kamin, a mail-order and internet business, began marketing spice mixes in 2012 that it labeled as organic. A German consumer advocacy group challenged the sales, and the German Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice) referred the case to ECJ. The court found that in the case of online or mail-order retail sales, product storage and delivery by intermediaries created a risk of re-labeling, exchange or contamination so the “direct” sales exemption for small, face-to-face sellers should not be construed broadly.

A consumer has filed a putative class action alleging the Hain Celestial Group's “ColdPressed” juice products are mislabeled because a third-party company, which manufactures some of the product, heats the juice during high-pressure processing, causing a “compositional change." Davis v. Hain Celestial Grp., No. 17- 5191 (E.D.N.Y., filed September 3, 2017). The complaint challenges two product lines, BluePrint ColdPressed Juice and BluePrint Organic fruit drinks, which the plaintiff claims are represented as “raw and organic” and “never heated.” The plaintiff asserts that high-pressure processing heats the juice, causing changes in the “microbial, enzymatic and bacterial activity and intact cellular structures,” resulting in the products no longer being raw or fresh. Claiming violations of New York consumer protection laws along with fraudulent misrepresentation, implied warranty of merchantability and unjust enrichment, the plaintiff seeks class certification, injunctive relief, damages and attorney’s fees.

The Organic Trade Association has filed a lawsuit to compel the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to implement the Organic Livestock Rule, which was scheduled to take effect on March 18, 2017. Organic Trade Ass’n v. U.S. Dep’t of Agric., No. 17-1875 (D.D.C., filed September 13, 2017). After 10 years of public process and hearing, USDA published the final rule in January 2017 along with formal recommendations from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) resulting from consultations required by the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). On January 20, 2017, former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus issued a memorandum to federal agencies directing them to temporarily postpone effective dates for regulations that had been published but had not yet taken effect. The complaint alleges that public comment should have been permitted on whether the Priebus memo applied to the Organic Livestock Rule because its standards affect only those who…

Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.) has introduced a bill that aims to help farmers transition to organic agriculture and boost American production of organic products to reduce dependence on imports. The Homegrown Organic Act of 2017 would amend the Food Security Act of 1985 by modifying existing conservation programs to help farmers who are working toward organic certification. It would also remove a payment limit under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program Organic Initiative, which provides financial assistance for implementing environmentally friendly practices. In addition, the bill would expand the Conservation Stewardship Program, providing assistance to farms in transition as well as those already in organic production. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Agriculture.   Issue 643

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