State of California May Regulate Organic Products

Legislation to give the authority to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to regulate fertilizer materials used as organic inputs for certified organic farming has been introduced by Assembly Member Anna Caballero. The bill, AB 856, will define organic inputs and require such products, both bulk and packaged, to be registered with CDFA, says Steve Beckley, executive director of the Organic Fertilizer Association of California (OFAC).

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The legislation comes in the wake of several scandals involving adulterated so-called organic fertilizers. In the most prominent case, one of the largest organic fertilizer companies in California sold a fertilizer that contained the synthetic fertilizer ammonium sulfate. California Liquid Fertilizer sold the product, Biolizer XN, for up to seven years, and was finally ordered to remove it from the organic market in 2007. The product, which was brewed from fish and chicken feathers, held as much as a third of the state’s market in 2006.

The new legislation calls for a registration fee that would be no more than $500, and would be set by the Fertilizer Inspection Advisory Board. Annual audits would be required of manufacturers, but audits by other third parties such as the Organic Materials Review Institute and the Washington State Department of Agriculture would be accepted. The bill increases civil penalties for all fertilizer violations and allows CDFA to suspend the license of a person who adulterates a product for three years.

Beckley says he has been working on the legislation with CDFA, as well as other parties including California Certified Organic Farmers, because it is a goal of OFAC to have CDFA regulate organic inputs. He will likely testify today when the bill is scheduled to be heard by the Assembly’s Agriculture Committee. The bill would then have to go through several more committees and a floor vote before it becomes law. For more information, go online to www.assembly.ca.gov/acs/acsframeset2text.htm and enter Assembly Bill 856.