HARTFORD – Local organic blueberry farmer Arthur Harvey takes the U.S. government to court. And he wins.

Harvey’s legal focus is ensuring food labels are accurate and that food producers cannot label a product certified organic if it isn’t. The result of his recent work is a change in federal laws – effective June 8 – that better define what organic means for milk and food, and better inform the public about the products they are purchasing and consuming.

He was recognized as the Organic Inspector of the Year and Inspector Asset of the Year by the international Independent Organic Inspectors Association for his efforts. The ceremony was held this month in Encinitas, Calif.

“It was a surprise to me because I don’t do that many inspections,” Harvey said.

Harvey, a vocal peace activist and longtime federal tax protester, said his work came to the attention of the 200-member Independent Organic Inspectors Association after he won three major points in a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In 2002, he filed a suit on USDA organic regulations in U.S. District Court in Portland where it was dismissed. His appeal in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston brought better results, with Harvey victorious on three major points.

In his suit, Harvey asserted that federal law on organic milk production requires producers to stop feeding genetically modified grain to cows for one year before the milk could be labeled organic, because it takes a year of organic feeding to make the transition to organic production of milk. The USDA asserted that three months of feeding organic food to cows was adequate to make – and label – milk production organic.

Federal law on the subject agrees with Harvey and so did the First District Court of Appeals, which ruled in Harvey’s favor.

Federal law requires 95 percent of processed food to be organic and 5 percent to come from a national list of permitted ingredients in order to carry the USDA certified organic label. The USDA asserted that the 5 percent could come from any agricultural product, not necessarily from the list of permitted ingredients.

The court again ruled in Harvey’s favor.

On these two issues, the change on labels will be mandatory come June 8.

The third issue in Harvey’s suit sought adherence to federal law which requires that after organic produce has been harvested, no artificial substances are to be used in any further processing. The USDA asserted this requirement was not realistic and developed a list of allowed synthetics to be used in processing.

Harvey won on this issue, too, noting his victory put major manufacturers in a panic. That panic resulted in intensive and successful lobbying to change federal law to allow synthetics in ingredients used in post-harvest processing.

“You’ve got to watch these federal agencies like a hawk,” Harvey said. “They can take an act of Congress and shape it to suit the industry rather than the consumer. It’s my objective to get the regulations back in sync with what the Congress intended.”

The “act of Congress” Harvey refers to was an amendment, inserted in the USDA fiscal 2006 budget, specifying that certain artificial ingredients could be used in organic food, according to a New York Times report on the wrangling. Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association, which supported the amendment, told the Times, “The amendment was intended to protect the industry from the Harvey ruling and will not change the status quo. If applied, the judge’s ruling would have forced many manufacturers to stop using the USDA Organic seal and instead re-label products to state, for instance, ‘cookies made with organic flour’ or ‘frozen lasagna made with organic tomatoes.'”

According to that same report, the Organic Trade Association supported the amendment to encourage “the continued growth of organic food,” suggesting restrictive regulations could be onerous for producers and processors.

Others, including the Center for Food Safety, the National Organic Standards Board and Harvey disagree.

Harvey’s fight on accurate labeling of foods and preservation of truly organic food production isn’t over.

He’s gone back to court asking that the court enforce its ruling that synthetic process aids are illegal. That would include aids added to food during processing but removed before packaging and aids added to food that remain in the finished product at “insignificant” levels.

That lawsuit was denied in the U.S. District Court in Portland and Harvey is awaiting word on its appeal.

“I hope the recent election changes the mood of Congress and it will shift as to organic food standards following the election of an organic farmer from Montana to the Senate,” Harvey said.

He’d like to see the law expanded to require all synthetics be listed on food labels, even those used in processing.

“Organic consumers need more than government assurance that food is safe,” Harvey said.

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