CATCH THE BUZZ: USDA trumps State law

Court says USDA is sole enforcer for organics

From The Packer

The California Court of Appeals ruled consumers do not have the right to sue food producers for alleged violations of the Organic Foods Protection Act because such actions would undermine federal enforcement.

California resident Michelle Quesada sought the appeals court decision after a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge dismissed her class action case against HerbThyme Farms Inc., Pico Rivera, Calif.

Quesada contends the company marketed a mix of conventional and organic herbs in packaging labeled as certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to court documents.
“Congress made clear its intention to preclude private enforcement through state consumer lawsuits in order to achieve its objective of establishing a national standard for the use of ‘organic’ and ‘USDA organic’ in labeling agricultural products,” the three-judge panel said in the appeal ruling.
The judges’ decision states the USDA has primary jurisdiction to enforce provisions of the National Organic Program, including certification and compliance.

Although the California decision is not binding on other states, it can be cited and used as case law in such disputes.

Miles McEvoy, director of USDA’s National Organic Program, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the decision.

The appeals court judges said Quesada “changed position” in the course of her appeal, switching to the argument that HerbThyme Farms violated the California Organic Products Act. The judges’ decision states the USDA is the only entity with jurisdiction in cases of alleged violations of organic regulations, regardless of the specific statute cited by Quesada.

Even in states like California, which have their own organic laws on the books, consumers do not have the right to sue organic producers, the decision states, because the federal Organic Foods Protection Act of 1990 gives the USDA the power of certification and compliance enforcement.