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Official Scrutiny for National Organic Program

In response to widespread criticism and growing public distrust, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has ordered an independent audit of the National Organic Program.

Starting in October, the National Institute of Standards and Technology will take a look at existing organic standards and the nearly 100 private certifiers who determine which products get the USDA Organic label.

Federal organic standards have become significantly diluted over the past couple of years, thanks to pressure from lobbyists, the Washington Post reported last month.

Grated organic cheese, for example, contains wood starch to prevent clumping. Organic beer can be made from non-organic hops. Organic mock duck contains a synthetic ingredient that gives it an authentic, stringy texture.
The audit is designed to not only improve the program and bring the U.S. in line with international organic standards, but also to regain public trust in the organic label. At least one study has shown that consumers trust the phrase "natural" more than they trust "organic," even though natural is not legally defined for most food products.

The National Organic Coalition requested an audit like this one back when Obama's team was just getting ready to take office, saying the organic program had "a history of issuing inconsistent, secretive, and poorly justified interpretations of USDA organic standards and regulations."

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