May 4, 2016

PRESS RELEASE: U.S. District Court Grants Western Growers’ Amicus Status in Organic Compost Case

IRVINE, Calif. (May 3, 2016) – Today, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted Western Growers amicus status in a lawsuit challenging the National Organic Program’s (NOP) Guidance 5016: The Allowance of Green Waste in Organic Production Systems.

In this lawsuit, the plaintiffs – Center for Environmental Health, Center for Food Safety, and Beyond Pesticides – are seeking to invalidate the Guidance on procedural grounds but argue it is flawed because it does not require that all compost used on organic farms is proved – by analytical testing – to be free of all disallowed synthetic substances.  The current Guidance protects certified organic farmers when organic compost contains incidental residues of prohibited substances that the farmer did not cause.  

The truth is, since the inception of the federal organic program, USDA has recognized compost containing de minimis levels of chemical residues is nearly unavoidable. Under the USDA’s Guidance, compost is allowed on organic farms provided its use does not contribute to contamination of soil, crops or water. This is consistent with organic farming practices long before the federal government got involved. It recognizes there is no analytical testing that can confirm the absence of all disallowed chemical substances, and the cost of trying to conduct such testing would be prohibitive and could render organic production economically infeasible. 

Western Growers asked the court to consider the impact of plaintiffs “zero tolerance” approach on organic farmers, compost manufacturers and consumers before agreeing to invalidate the Guidance. The court granted Western Growers’ motion to appear in the case to provide a perspective on the fairness and legal propriety of any final remedy.

A major issue facing the court is whether a procedural flaw would justify eliminating the protection organic farmers have always had from lawsuits claiming their compost must be free of every synthetic substance used in conventional agriculture and grounds maintenance. Plaintiffs’ apparent preference for lawsuits would expose nearly every single organic farmer to significant and unknown financial liability.

The Organic Trade Association and California Certified Organic Farmers have jointly requested authorization to join the case and to join the arguments submitted by Western Growers. The court said: “[G]iven the importance of the issue before the Court, the Court is inclined to allow the Organic Trade Association and the California Certified Organic Farmers to appear and submit their proposed declarations.” We welcome their support.

About Western Growers:
Founded in 1926, Western Growers represents local and regional family farmers growing fresh produce in Arizona, California and Colorado. Our members and their workers provide half the nation’s fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts, including nearly half of America’s fresh organic produce. For generations we have provided variety and healthy choices to consumers. Connect with and learn more about Western Growers on our Twitter and Facebook.