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Date: Mon, 18 May 1998 10:13:35 -0700
From: Kai Siedenburg <email@example.com>
Subject: Organic: Strong editorial from S.J. Mercury
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The Big Organic Apple
Editorial published in San Jose Mercury News, May 12, 1998
Labels don't always mean a lot. Consumers know that "low-fat"
and "fat-free" often hide products high in sodium, sugar and
calories. But an "organic" label does mean a lot, especially in
California and in other states that have followed its lead in
setting high standards. "Organic" means not only foods raised
without pesticides or artificial fertilizers, but also fruits and
vegetables grown in ways that preserve soil fertility. It means
livestock raised by humane methods, and without hormones or
The U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed last year to issue
national standards for organic food, but the rules seemed
tailor-made to destroy any real meaning in the "organic" label.
The USDA's fondness for factory farming and agribusiness
came through loud and clear. Among other things, the proposed
rules would have allowed use of sewage sludge for fertilizer,
inhumane livestock practices, genetically engineered products,
irradiation, and other methods and chemicals that are
anathema to organic food farmers and consumers.
Soon after the USDA proposals were made public, something
else came through loud and clear: Americans don't want
"organic" to become as meaningless as "one size fits all."
About 200,000 people submitted comments on the proposed
guidelines, the largest such response in recent years. The flood
of opposition has persuaded the government to back off, at
least on genetically engineered crops, irradiation and sludge.
Battles on other standards will continue this year, but when
rewritten should look a lot more like California's standards.
The USDA's attack on organic standards was both stupid and
short-sighted; stupid because it would have devastated the
industry in California, where it is growing the fastest and
earning the most money; and shortsighted because it ignores
the many values of organic agriculture that go beyond the
yearning for "natural" food. It's important that agribusiness
not drive out true organic farming the way supermarket chains
have driven out mom-and-pop grocery stores. Instead, organic
farmers should lead agribusiness toward better farming
practices that preserve the soil naturally and inexpensively;
stop introducing unneeded antibiotics into food, which leads to
antibiotic-resistant bacteria; control pests without
pesticides, not only so that baby food can be pure but also fend
off a new generation of pesticide-resistant insects; and cut
down on the amount of artificial hormones we all ingest--
substances that may be linked to the increase in childhood
cancers, among others.
The public response to the USDA is reminiscent of a similar
misstep, also in 1997, when the Federal Trade Commission
tried to water down "Made in USA" to mean "mostly made in the
USA, but 25 percent made by prison labor in China." A ferocious
response from organized labor, small businesses, politicians
and consumer groups persuaded the FTC that Americans want
that label, at least, to mean just what it says.
We congratulate both federal agencies for coming to their
senses. But mostly we applaud Americans for taking the time
to let them know that when it comes to the products we buy,
and especially the food we eat, we want to know exactly what
it is we're paying for.
This message forwarded by:
California Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SAWG)
P.O. Box 1599, Santa Cruz, CA 95061
Phone: (408) 457-2815
Fax: (408) 457-1003
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