Salon rings the alarm bells on a new ruling released by the USDA that would tighten the requirements for organic certification, and in so doing cause irreparable harm to smallholder farmers of organic certified specialty coffee the world over.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture quietly released a ruling that alarmed organic certifiers and groups who work with third-world farmers. The decision tightens organic certification requirements to such a degree that it could sharply curtail the ability of small grower co-ops to produce organic coffee — not to mention organic bananas, cocoa, sugar and even spices. Kimberly Easson, director of strategic relationships for TransFair USA, the fair trade certification group, puts it bluntly: “This ruling could wipe out the organic coffee market in the U.S.”

While it’s almost certainly not the intent of USDA to favor large, colonial-style coffee plantations to the ruin of smallholder farmers (bear with me, I’m trying to keep my cynicism in check for the duration of this article) it would seem — at first glance, anyway — that’s precisely what would happen.

I’ll be following this issue closely, and will follow-up soon as I can.

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