New Scientist: A controversial definition of organic food is under attack (fwd)
Lawrence F. London, Jr. (email@example.com)
Thu, 12 Mar 1998 12:23:11 -0500 (EST)
>New Scientist March 7, 1998
> Kurt Kleiner (Washington DC)
> A controversial definition of organic food is under attack
>>> THE US government seems poised to abandon a plan to allow food treated
>with radiation, fertilised with sewage sludge or created by genetic
>engineering to carry an official "organic" label. After receiving a
>of complaints from buyers and sellers of organic produce, the US
>>> (USDA) has told activists that it will think again.
>>> Members of a delegation
>>> that met a senior USDA official last week say they were promised
>>> that the rules would be changed. "The uproar is so loud, so
>>> dramatic, that they have literally hundreds of thousands of eyes
>>> on them in a rule-making process that usually only 20 or 30
>>> people are interested in," says Bob Scowcroft, executive
>>> director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa
>>> Cruz, California.
>>> The organic industry itself had asked for national standards
>>> on organic labelling. At present, different states in the US
>>> have different requirements for an organic label, and some have
>>> no rules at all.
>>> Most people who buy organic food do so in the expectation of
>>> obtaining entirely "natural" products. But the USDA rules,
>>> published last December, ignored the advice of an advisory board
>>> from the organic food business and focused more narrowly on the
>>> use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers. Provided none of
>>> these were used, the USDA wanted food to be labelled organic
>>> even if it contained genetically engineered material or had
>>> been irradiated to kill microorganisms. The proposed rules would
>>> also allow the use of fertiliser made from sewage sludge.
>>> Since then, the USDA has received about 10 000 comments, most of
>>> them negative. Last week, deputy agriculture secretary Richard
>>> Rominger met a delegation of critics. Margaret Mellon, who lobbies in
>>> Washington DC on agricultural issues for the Union of Concerned
>>> Scientists, says the group was promised that the rules would be
>>> changed to satisfy the organic food industry.
>>> Rominger would not comment on what he said, and a USDA
>>> spokesman stresses that no final decision has been made. But the
>>> period for public comment on the proposed rules, which was
>>> supposed to end in mid-March, has been extended until the end
>>> of April because of the massive response.
>>> While some activists are already claiming a victory, others
>>> remain cautious. Scowcroft, for one, is waiting until he sees
>>> the wording of the revised rules. It is still possible, he
>>> warns, that the rules could set off a new transatlantic trade
>>> The European Union has enforced a common standard for
>>> organic plant produce since 1991. It rules out irradiation and
>>> the use of sewage sludge. A ban on organic labelling for
>>> genetically modified crops, already applied voluntarily by
>>> member states, will be added this year, and rules for organic
>>> livestock are expected to be agreed soon.
>>> So if the USDA rules differ significantly from these
>>> standards, Scowcroft suggests that European countries might seek
>>> to exclude US "organic" exports.
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