June 21, 2016

PRESS RELEASE: WG Disappointed in U.S. District Court Organic Compost Ruling

IRVINE, Calif. (June 21, 2016) — Western Growers is disappointed with yesterday’s federal court decision that struck down a five-year-old federal Guidance document allowing the use of composted municipal green waste on organic farms in California. Monday’s court decision in Center for Environmental Health v. Vilsack vacated the National Organic Program’s (NOP) Guidance 5016: The Allowance of Green Waste in Organic Production Systems.

The Guidance already prohibited use of compost that was shown to contaminate soil, crops or water, but plaintiffs argued that this was not strict enough under the pre-2011 organic rules. While the court stopped short of agreeing with plaintiffs, the court found that USDA did not gather sufficient comment on the 2011 legal guidance and ordered them back to the drawing board. USDA now has 60 days to issue new Guidance and get comment before the August 22 deadline.

Western Growers provided input to the court as an amicus to show that the sudden withdrawal of the Guidance would harm organic agriculture, composting operations and consumers in California.

“We asked the court to simply allow USDA to fix any procedural problem to the Guidance without doing away with these important rules that codify well-established organic practices,” said Western Growers Vice President of Federal Government Affairs, Dennis Nuxoll. “Now, starting in August, California organic farmers – who have followed USDA’s lead in good faith – won’t know the rules of the road,’ Nuxoll continued.

Western Grower is concerned that certified organic farmers will no longer enjoy the protections of NOP Guidance 5016 if their organic compost contains incidental residues of prohibited substances that they did not cause and be opened up to potential lawsuits. Furthermore, we recognize that no analytical testing currently exists to 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 unfeasible.

We believe the organic industry will be harmed by this type of legal and economic uncertainty and will explore all available remedies to insulate organic farmers from this short-sighted and potentially market-devastating ruling.”