I think it's valuable to make a distinction between these two questions
(1) should we have a national organic standard; and
(2) what should be the specifics of that standard?
The organic industry initiated this process of having a national standard,
because they felt there would be benefits to the consumer (a consistent
standard across states and one to present to other countries) and for the
industry (consistency supports commerce).
The risk anytime one standardizes, though, is what that standard should be.
Most of the current debate is focussed on the USDA's proposed standard,
which is a lot lower than existing standards in many key ways. (Sorry,
Grace, them's the facts!)
However, sometimes, like in questions like yours, we'll bump into the
original question of whether we should have a national standard at all.
Given what the USDA has done, it's tempting to say not, but then we'd be
back to where we are, with varying definitions of organic, no definitions
in some places, causing little sticking points in transferring and
combining organics from different places.
Perhaps the real issue then is not whether we should have a national
standard, but whether the USDA is capable of being the keeper of the
definition, and about this I have serious doubts. If they cannot get the
concept of true organic, if they keep disregarding the existing definition
and claiming that their version is "better" or "more right" than the
industry definition they were supposed to put into law, then perhaps it's
time that another organization is responsible for upholding the definition
of the word - perhaps a separate entity with the authority of the
government, as I understand the Federal Reserve to be.
In any case, I think there are good reasons to have one national definition
of word organic. It should just be the definition that the industry has
created and the consumer supported, not some corrupted version made up by
the self-involved USDA. And I don't think any other words should be
prevented from being used - "grown without pesticides", "no GE", etc. This
way, growers and manufacturers can speak about whatever features they want
to offer their customers. Full information, after all, was defined by
Smith as one of the KEY elements of a free enterprise system. Without
that, how's the magic invisible hand of the consumer supposed to make an
INFORMED choice about what they want?
I also believe that it should not be cost-prohibitive for someone to say
that they're organic, or to certify someone as being. I believe that the
USDA budget should fund all, or at least nearly-all, of the costs of the
organic program. They've spent billions on research that's benefitted
agribusiness hansomely, including research on pesticides and genetic
engineering, yet they've spend less than a million annually (last I heard)
on organic research. Yet it is organics that reduce the toxic load on us
all, thus supporting greatly increased health of our bodies and our
ecosystems. It's organics and other non-toxic approaches that I want to
have the lion's share of my taxdollars to the USDA. The cost of
administering this organic program will likely be quite small relative to
the USDA's other expenditures and yet be the most consistent with the
vision many of us have of the government supporting what's best for ALL the
community, not just a few corporations who just take the money and run,
leaving harmed ecosystems and now DNA systems in their wake.
I hope these thoughts are useful to you.
Best regards -
--- FORWARD ---
From: Aleta B Cheal, INTERNET:firstname.lastname@example.org
To: Patricia Dines, 73652,1202
Date: Mon, Mar 16, 1998, 6:33 AM
Subject: question re: organic rules
I've read all of the debate going back and forth these past few weeks,
and I'm starting to get more confused than I was when I first read the
standards! As I understand it, if an organic farmer grows food at higher
than the proposed standard, he will still be able to call his food
organic, using the national label. But he will not be able to label his
food as being organic AND "more organic" than the government standard. I
thought that they didn't want to prohibit these growers from being called
organic, but they wanted to prohibit them from claiming that they were
using higher standards than the government. (Which I still think is
ridiculous). Am I right, or utterly confused?
Organic gardener, consumer, and student
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