The Relief Report ®

A newsletter covering regulatory reform efforts in Washington and across America, published by The National Center for Public Policy Research

20 F Street NW, Suite 700 Washington, D.C. 20001
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Issue #76 * June 14, 2000 * David A. Ridenour, Editor


New Book Cites 100 Instances of Americans Victimized by Heavy-Handed Government Officials

National Survey: U.S.D.A. Organic Food Labels Are Misleading


New Book Cites 100 Instances of Americans Victimized by Heavy-Handed Government Officials

A book released this month by The National Center for Public Policy Research has documented numerous cases in which federal agencies wrongfully arrested Americans, raided their homes and seized their businesses for crimes they didn't commit.

The National Directory of Environmental and Regulatory Victims lists 100 stories of personal tragedy, including stories of innocent citizens who were unjustly targeted by federal agencies employing their own police forces in a heavy-handed manner. A few examples:

* North Carolina businessman Earl Peck was arrested by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Agents in a SWAT-like raid in1995 for allegedly selling bear meat illegally, although the meat had been purchased from a USDA-inspected supplier and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture found nothing illegal. Although a U.S. Attorney dropped all charges, Peck was unable to re-open his once-thriving business because of uncertainty over what the federal government might do. He is now financially ruined.

* Last year, U.S. Marshals burst into the Pittsburgh home of Bob Learzaf, cuffed him, put him in leg irons and hauled him to jail because he opposed an order from the U.S. Forest Service to burn a cabin that had been owned by his family since 1923. A judge later ruled that Learzaf, who had hired an attorney to fight the Forest Service order, had been wrongfully arrested.

* In 1993, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Agents, with a CNN camera crew in tow, raided the home of Paul and Emma Berger, an elderly Montana couple, after informants claimed that the couple was using pesticide to kill bald eagles. Berger was coerced to allow the lead agent to enter and search his home - not knowing that the search warrant did not include the house or that the agent was wearing a hidden CNN microphone. Cleared by a jury of harming eagles, the Bergers sued the federal government for violating their right against unreasonable searches. After six years of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for the couple.

One reason for these increasing instances of heavy-handed law enforcement is the proliferation of agencies with law enforcement authority. These include the FBI, the Treasury Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Customs Service, the U.S. Postal Police, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.

"With so many federal law enforcement entities pursuing their own agendas, it is vital that these agencies be held accountable or the ranks of regulatory victims will grow," says John Carlisle, author of the directory. "Although many falsely-accused people are eventually cleared, they often suffer such grievous economic and psychological harm that their lives are permanently shattered."

 Editor's Note: To download the 2000 edition of the National Directory of Environmental and Regulatory Victims, go to


National Survey: U.S.D.A. Organic Food Labels Are Misleading

A new poll finds the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) proposed rules for labeling organic food products will seriously mislead consumers into thinking the products are safer, better in quality or more nutritious. The survey, conducted by International Communications Research of Media, PA on behalf of the National Center for Public Policy Research, found two-thirds of the public would be misled by the proposed USDA seal on several key issues:

* 68 percent said they would interpret a product labeled "USDA Certified Organic" to be safer to eat than non-organic foods;

* 67 percent believed "USDA Certified Organic" to be better than non-organic foods; and,

* 62 percent believe "USDA Certified Organic" to be healthier for consumers than non-organic foods.

"Neither organic nor conventional producers are served by misleading the public over such important issues of food safety and nutrition," said John Carlisle, director of the Environmental Policy Task Force at the National Center for Public Policy Research. "A level playing field for organic growers can only exist if consumers are informed about the real benefits and risks of purchasing organically certified products."

According to both the USDA and the leadership of the $6 billion organic industry, organic certification is only an accreditation of production methods used by farmers and not an assurance of food safety, quality, nutrition or health. USDA Secretary Dan Glickman, in announcing the proposed rules, stated that the USDA organic certification does not mean food labeled organic is "superior, safer or more healthy than conventional food." In a recent interview on ABC News' 20/20, Organic Trade Association director Katherine DiMatteo reiterated that organic products are not safer or more nutritious than other foods, noting, "Organic agriculture is not particularly a food safety claim. That's not what our standards are about."

The proposed USDA rules, developed in response to the Organic Food Production Act of 1990, are to help consumers distinguish products grown using national standards for organic production methods. Today, no national standards exist, and, according to the Organic Trade Association, as much as 50% of all foods sold as organic lack any certification on which consumers can rely to inform their purchase choice.

In other findings, this national consumer poll found seven out of ten (69 percent) said the USDA label would imply these products are better for the environment and four out of ten (43 percent) believe these would be more nutritious. In fact, the label provided no information on either of these qualities.

"Consumers pay significant premiums, sometimes as much as 200 percent, for these products based on misperceptions that will be heightened by this USDA proposed label," noted Carlisle. "Clearly, consumers want the USDA to amend this rule to include specific language on the USDA proposed seal to inform consumers that organic certification is based on production methods and conveys no assurance of food safety, nutrition or other quality."

Editorial correspondence to The Relief Report should be directed to: The National Center for Public Policy Research * 20 F Street NW, Suite 700 * Washington, D.C. 20001 * (202) 507-6398 * Fax (301) 498-1301 * E-mail [email protected] * Web Copyright 2000, The National Center for Public Policy Research. Coverage of meetings, activities or statements in the Relief Report does not imply endorsement by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints of material in the Relief Report permitted provided source is credited. To receive all National Center newsletters free by e-mail, visit or send an e-mail to: mailing [email protected].

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