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
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
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
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
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
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: http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop
Organic Trade Association: http://www.ota.com