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Organic consumers get
Christmas wish list

Here's where everyone's vote made a difference
Anna May Kinney

    With fluffy, white snow covering the ground, most of our thoughts are miles away from our gardens. But for those of us who are constantly on a search for organically grown fruit and vegetables, facing increased winter pricing and questioning just HOW organic are these double priced products, organics are a year round concern.

   Last Wednesday, at a news conference held in the produce aisles of a Fresh Fields store, one of the nations largest natural-foods supermarkets, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman announced the new rules governing the organic food industry in the United States. He said that the new regulations are "the strongest and most comprehensive organic standard in the world." And now consumers "who want to buy organic can do so with the confidence of knowing exactly what it is they're buying".

    With fewer than 7,000 farms having received approval from various state or private certifying agencies, the organic food business is still considered a rather small part of U.S. agriculture.

    In Europe, where farmers are offered government aid to convert to organic agriculture 1.5 percent of cropland is organic, while in the U.S. only 0.2 percent was certified organic in 1997.

    While the increase in organic cropland has not been holding around the same it did a decade ago, sales of organic products have grown at least 20 percent EVERY year over the last decade. According to the Organic Trade Association, demand for organic food means an estimated $7.8 billion.

    When these new regulations were first proposed in 1997, it was the governments plan to include genetically engineered foods, irradiated food and food grown with sewer sludge in the definition of organic.

After a massive write in campaign, during which 275, 603 people sent in comments to the USDA, most opposing the inclusion of these experimental and controversial food production methods being used on organic farms, the USDA had to rethink this proposal.

    By this summer, consumers will begin seeing the new USDA Organic seal on all food grown and processed according to the new federal standards. These new National regulations will replace the hodgepodge of state rules and bar the use of irradiated, genetically engineered produce, as well as foods grown in sewer sludge from being labeled organic.

    The new rules also ban the use of most synthetic pesticides for crops, ban antibiotics from organic meat and require dairy cattle to have access to pasture.

The regulations divide organic labeling into four categories:

1.Products that are labeled "100 percent organic" must contain only organic ingredients.

2.The ingredients of products labeled "organic" must be at least 95 percent organic by weight.

3.Processed products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients may be labeled "made with organic ingredients," and as many as three of those ingredients may be listed on the front of the package. This is a stricter standard than one proposed earlier, which would have required only 50 percent organic ingredients.

4.Processed products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients may list those ingredients on the information panel but may not carry the term "organic" anywhere on the front of the package.

Products meeting the requirements for "100 percent organic," "organic" and "made with organic ingredients" may display those terms and the percentage of organic content on the front. And an "U.S.D.A." seal may appear on products in the first two categories (and in their advertisements), but not on products in the two others.

    Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association and acting spokeswoman for the organic foods industry, welcomed the new regulations. "The long wait for the final rule was worthwhile, the U.S.D.A. has delivered a strict organic standard that is a great boost to the organic industry. In no way is this final rule less than what the industry wanted."

    Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat from Vermont, author of the law that called for these new regulations said, "The rule will assist organic producers who want to export their products." Especially with Japan and the Europe Union where they have been reluctant to purchase organic food from the U.S. because they would have had to deal with 44 different state and private organic certification standards, when the new rule takes effect on February 19 they will have to deal with only one.

For further information, please take a minute and check out these websites.
USDA's National Organic Program:
Organic Trade Association: