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ORGANIC PROTEST USHERS IN
POSITIVE CHANGE

YELL LOUD AND YOU WILL BE HEARD
BY
ANNA MAY KINNEY

 

Many people have asked me how the petition (demanding labeling on genetically altered foods) is doing at Clarks and Sons in Lennoxville, well it's doing fantastic, there are already five pages of signatures, please take the time to add your name.
Now if you're one of those "nothing will make a difference" people, think about this;

In 1998 when the USDA purposed that food defined as organic include genetically altered, irradiated and foods grown with the help of septic tank sludge, Americans did not throw their arms in the air and give up, instead they waged an unprecedented protest. Canadian supporters of pure organic food joined forces with those south of the border and let the USDA know we would not stand for these changes.

While Canada has a large and growing organic food industry, consumers still have to depend heavily on importations from the United States. Those of us, who are concerned with the quality of our food, have been watching closely to see what direction these changes were going to take.

With over 10 million organic consumers, 10,000 organic farmers and around 6,000 retailers the U.S. organic industry may be the largest in the world and the regulations enforced on such a large group would certainly have a long term effect on other world wide organic industries.

It is predicted that organic food production will equal 10% of American agriculture by the year 2010. This year alone consumers will spend around $8 billion on organic food.

When such an impressive group of consumers puts on one of the most massive consumer protests of all time, it is guaranteed to make a difference. Finally, on March 8, the USDA buckled under pressure and agreed to pass a new set of guidelines for organic food standards and labeling.

The National Organic Standard Board and organic activists got almost everything they asked for, including a prohibition on genetic engineering, irradiation and sewage sludge as well as a variety of other agriculture practices, all incorporated into a 663-page proposal.

The USDA has agreed that all certified organic food will have to be produced without toxic pesticides or toxic "inert-ingredients"; that antibiotics, growth hormones, and rendered animal protein can not be administered or fed to animals.

That factory farm-style intensive confinement of farm animals will not be allowed; and that no synthetics or chemicals will be allowed in organic production without the approval of the National Organic Standards Board.

In addition the USDA backed off on their previous proposal to outlaw "eco-labels" Which might imply that a product was organic.
The USDA agreed to leave the preexisting system that allows private and state organic certifiers to display their logos or seals on front panels of organic products.

While we all must agree there are some major improvements in the current USDA organic standards proposal, there are a few shortcomings and problems remaining.

*Manure from factory farms is still allowed as a fertilizer on organic farms.

*Foods labeled 'natural foods' that contain less than 50% organic ingredients will still be allowed to list their organic ingredients on their label. This is done without a warning that the non-organic ingredients may contain genetically engineered, irradiated or food grown from sewage sludge. These items might also have small amounts of pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones.

*The proposal requires that in organic animal husbandry, animals are provided with "access to outdoors", but there is no clarification as to what constitutes a "pasture", nor does the USDA set down exact spacing requirements for the humane housing of these animals or outdoor access for poultry, cattle, pigs and other animals.

*This proposal fails to look at one of the biggest threats to the organic farmer, "genetic drift", the stuff that blows off the fields of genetically engineered crops and lands on organic fields. Organic farmers are insisting that the USDA hold biotech patent holders and seed companies financially liable and accountable for the economic and environmental damage caused by genetic drift.

*It should be recommended that instead of imposing heavy financial hardship certified organic growers, the USDA could provide free accreditation services to farmers, or at least subsidize the costs for any farmer who wishes to become certified as organic.

If you took part in the letter and phone campaigns, petitions or boycotts you should be proud of what are collective efforts have achieved, but please do not sit back now and feel this fight is over. There is a 90-day official comment period, which ends on June 12 and until this proposition is finalized the USDA could easily be persuaded by the biotech industry and corporate agribusiness to lighten the regulations.

Consumers are being encouraged to keep the pressure on the USDA by either e-mailing the USDA, Dan Glickman, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 14th & Independence Ave. SW, Washington D.C. 20250, e-mail at agsec@usda.gov or fax them at 703-365-0760; or you can write Keith Jones, National Organic Program, USDA-AMS-TMP-NOP, Room 2945-So., Ag Stop 0275, PO Box 96456, Washington, D.C. 20090-6456. Please remember to state that your comments are referring to docket # TMD-00-02-PR and demand that the USDA does not weaken this proposal in any way.