I’ve had some readers ask for clarification about how to post comments opposing the USDA’s new rule exempting hops from being organic in beers labeled as Certified USDA Organic.
First let me recap the whole story here (skip to the bottom to get right to the Action Steps):
The USDA has allowed most products labeled organic to contain up to 5% non-organic ingredients. Sometime in the last couple years they were mandated to tighten up this loophole by the end of May 2007. So, at the very last minute they issued a proposed rule change that would add 38 additional ingredients, including hops, to their “national list” of ingredients exempted from being organic, thus continuing to allow many ingredients to be non-organic in “organic” products.
The rationale of the list is that it only includes ingredients that are: 1) not essential to the character of the product in question; 2) comprise less than 5% of a product’s ingredients (I’m not sure if this is by weight or volume); and 3) that are unavailable as organic.
By waiting until the last minute to publish the proposed rule they were able to restrict the required public comment period to a mere seven days. Despite this short comment period with no advance warning, a total of 1,264 comments were filed, nearly all of which opposed the rule change and many of which specifically opposed the addition of hops to the list. Comments cited reasons such as: 1) hops are essential in what modern American drinkers consider to be beer; 2) organic hops are available.
One of the best comments was filed by Lakefront Brewery owner Russ Klisch who noted that his brewery is now actually commissioning organic hops to be grown right in his home state of Wisconsin so that the hops will be local as well as organic.
In addition to the tidal wave of opposing comments on the rule change, many also complained about the short comment period. As a result, USDA was paralyzed for a couple weeks while they tried to decide what to do. During this time, their legal mandate to close the loophole expired which meant that companies marketing organic beers were temporarily legally required to use 100% orgainc hops in beers labeled USDA Organic. So, Anheuser-Busch, who supported the rule change (i.e. they argued that organic hops were unavailable and should therefore not be required) quickly changed their tune and announced that they were using all organic hops in their organic beers – thus proving that organic hops must be available enough that they could easily get enough of the on the fly to switch their beers.
The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) announced that on Friday, June 22 the USDA extended the comment period by two months. I have not been able to confirm this on the USDA website or the federal Regulations website, but the OCA is taking comments directly.
1. Click here to file your opposition via the Organic Consumers Association website.
2. To read all 1,264 comments submitted during the original seven day comment period, go to www.regulations.gov, scroll down and click on “Advanced Search.” In the “Agency” pulldown menu select “Agricultural Marketing Services.” Skip all the rest of the fields until the bottom where you need to type “ams-tm-07-0062” in the “Keyword” box and select “any word”. Then hit “submit.” It’ll only give you 14 results, but if you click on the hyperlinked “document ID” “ams-tm-07-0062” you’ll get all 1,264 comments. There, now wasn’t that easy!