The recently proposed rules for organic agriculture are perverse and
diabolical. They set an abysmally low standard for organic food. They
also portend frightening limits on free speech, a doublethink reminiscent
of George Orwell's <I>1984 </I> and even greater public ignorance about how
food is grown and processed. They seem to be part of a stealthy plan to
fully integrate sewage sludge, genetic engineering, large-scale animal
confinement and irradiation into our food system by preventing growers from
ever saying that they don't use any of these technologies.
All of this is just perfect, of course, for the corporations which are
pursuing higher profits through dangerous, new agricultural technologies,
and for the trade associations and government agencies which support them.
In a recent <I>Washington Post </I> article, Dr. Margaret Mellon of the
Union of Concerned Scientists, provides an intriguing example. A chicken,
which spent its entire life closed in a building with a hundred-thousand
other chickens, eating genetically-engineered corn and soybeans that were
grown on land fertilized with sewage sludge, could be called an "organic"
chicken under the proposed National Organic Program rules. It could even
be irradiated after processing and still be labeled "organic."
It is shocking that these rules propose allowing so many questionable
practices to be called "organic." The rules' effects are even more
serious, however. In order to prevent competition to its ersatz "Certified
Organic" label, USDA's proposed rules would prohibit anyone except its
certified farmers from using descriptive terms such as "produced without
synthetic chemicals", "produced without synthetic pesticides",
"pesticide-free farm", "no drugs or growth hormones used",
"ecologically-produced," "humanely-raised" or any other phrases that imply,
directly or indirectly, that a product is organically produced.
Most organic growers and consumers would like those terms to accurately
describe organic food and farming. However they may not describe the
produce of the only farmers who are allowed to use those terms. This is
where the doublethink comes in. Although only USDA "certified organic"
farmers could make those claims, the new proposed rules <U>do </U> allow
the use of synthetic chemicals, pesticides and drugs, as well as
unecological and inhumane production methods by those same farmers. In
other words the only people who could use those phrases implying
traditional organic methods, do not have to farm that way.
North Dakota organic farmer and National Organic Standards Board member Dr.
Fred Kirschenmann has written, "The rule also proposes regulations that
would prohibit private organic certification companies from certifying or
labeling products that differentiate 'any farming or handling requirements
other than those provided for' in the government's regulations. ... This
means that if the government insists on allowing sewage sludge,
irradiation, genetically engineered organisms, [synthetic chemicals] and
other materials and technologies that the National Organic Standards Board
specifically rejected for use in organic production, then no one can
certify any product that is free of these practices. Such regulations not
only take power and preference away from consumers, and limit the market
opportunities of producers, they restrict commercial free speech and leave
chemically-sensitive and allergic people without any reliable choices in
the marketplace that can potentially protect them from harm."
This would be a real triumph for the biotechnology industry (which believes
that its products are compatible with any system of organic growing), for
the food processors (who believe that organic is merely a standard of
identity, not a mark of superior safety or nutrition), for the EPA (which
promotes the use of sewage sludge) and for the FDA (which promotes food
irradiation and non-organic animal practices).
If this isn't what you want for your food, organic or not, then even if
you've never written to your legislators before, now's the time to tell
USDA and your representatives in Washington that the proposed rules are
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C) 1998, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "The Politics of
Food" and "Living on the Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays
Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future
is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid. These essays first appeared on WSHU, public radio from
Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing
and those since November 1995 are available there.
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