End of Organic Coffee and Foodstuff?

:Update–See below abstract of the e-mail update sent today, April 30, by Rob Everts, executive director, Equal Exchange (full text of the letter here):

In less than a week 3,150 individuals and 450 organizations signed on to the letter.

The USDA assured us that they had heard from us, and you, “loud and clear” and that in “two or three days” they would issue a statement that they thought would make us “happy.” They would not share any more etails other than to offer a little more explanation of how they perceived the issue.

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I’m late to the news that last month the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a ruling that tightens organic certification requirements to such a degree that it pretty much curtails the ability of small grower co-ops to produce organic coffee, plus organic bananas, cocoa, sugar, and spices. (Good primer by Salon.com.)

To be certificated organic, a typical farm is subjected to an annual USDA inspection. However, given the immense logistical demands of inspecting thousands of farms in the developing world, a provision was made for an organic inspector to randomly inspect 20 percent of a co-op. Subsequently, the grower co-op would be responsible for self-policing for the remainder of the year; the following year, an inspector would inspect another 20 percent of the co-op–after five years, all farms in the co-op would be inspected.

The ruling will put an end to this group organic certification provision because it calls for individual inspection of each farm, a financial burden that almost all small-scale growers will not be able to bear.

Equal Exchange has a well-articulated rational against the ruling and a request for co-signers on a letter (PDF) to be delivered to the USDA. Unfortunately the deadline for signing is today, April 24. However, at this time, the Organic Consumers Association has a similiar letter you can sign here.