Watchdog Group Formally Challenges Allegedly Illegal Agribusiness Appointments to USDA Organic Governing Board

| 8/20/2015 2:46:00 PM

Tags: USDA, Cornucopia Institute, Will Fantle,


The Cornucopia Institute has formally asked the USDA to review the appointment of an individual to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) who, the group contends, does not meet the legal qualifications for the position. The 15-member board of organic stakeholders was established by Congress to provide advice to the USDA on organic food and agriculture policy and determine what materials are allowed for use in organics.

Congress set aside four seats on the NOSB for farmers, explicitly defined in the enacting legislation as individuals “who own or operate an organic farming operation.” Cornucopia’s request for review to the USDA states that new NOSB member Ashley Swaffar, a full-time employee of an agribusiness involved in organic food production, neither owns nor operates an organic farm. The government and industry organic watchdog made this determination based on Swaffar’s application materials, submitted to the USDA and obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

“We are extremely disappointed by the USDA’s record of illegally appointing unqualified individuals to various stakeholder positions on the NOSB that fail to match the definitions earmarked by Congress when they established this important panel,” said Will Fantle, Cornucopia’s Research Director. “The USDA has been inappropriately stacking the board with agribusiness executives to amplify the voice of business interests at the expense of other constituencies in the organic sector,” Fantle added.

When Swaffar applied last year for a position on the NOSB, she was the Director of Special Projects at the Arkansas Egg Company, a vertically-integrated egg production company that contracts with farmers for its conventional and organic egg production in addition to owning their own facilities. Her application, providing a detailed account of her responsibilities, contains no indication that she “own[ed] or operate[d]” an organic farming operation.

On her NOSB application, Swaffar listed “financial planning, developing new products and customers, industry relations, growth planning, government relations and compliance” first on her list of responsibilities in this role.  “None of these duties are specific to the farming industry or directly relate to the production of food,” noted Fantle.  “This list could easily appear on the resume of an individual working in a finance or software industry.”

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