The Senate succumbed last week to food-industry pressure and approved a rider that would water down organic standards. (Grist‘s Amanda Griscom Little a few weeks ago ably laid out the context behind the Senate’s surrender.)

This AP article states that a Senate vote last Thursday …

… unravels a court ruling on whether products labeled “USDA Organic” can contain small amounts of nonorganic substances. Earlier this year, an appeals court ruled that nonorganic substances such as vitamins or baking powder can’t be in food bearing the round, green seal.

As I understand it, the real issue isn’t that baking powder and vitamins will be allowed in food labeled “USDA organic.” Ominously, the Senate’s act would strip power to decide which synthetic substances can and cannot be used from the National Organic Standards Board, a 15-member panel made up of  a mix of farmers, processors, retailers, scientists, consumer advocates, environmentalists, and certifying agents. Although the board is appointed by the USDA chief, it has acted independently — and by most accounts, responsibly — in its ten-year history, approving only 38 synthetic ingredients.

If the Senate bill becomes law, the power to decide what synthetics can go into “organic” food would be shifted directly to the USDA — that bastion of food-industry flackery. The Organic Consumers Association, which has doggedly fought this “sneak attack,” says the industry is trying to push through 500 more synthetic ingredients on organic standards. The OCA fears that USDA bureaucrats will be more amenable to the desires of Kraft and other industry heavyweights than the National Organic Standards Board was.

Here is OCA’s bitter and cogent commentary on the Senate’s craven move.