ORGANIC FOODS: USDA Issues Definition, Consumers Happy
Giving consumers what they asked for, the USDA announced new label standards for organic foods. Possibly the "most comprehensive, strictest organic rules in the world," it opens the door for U.S. farmers hoping to sell their products in a global market, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said (AP/Washington Times, 3/8). Under the proposal, only products that "exclude genetic engineering, irradiation, the use of sewage sludge as fertilizer and the use of antibiotics on food animals" will be certified "100% organic." Those products with 95% of their ingredients made under the organic standard will be considered "organic." Products with 50%-95% organic content will carry a label reading, "made with organic ingredients." For all others with less than 50% organic content, the word "organic" can only appear with the ingredient information. With a varying assortment of guidelines from states and private organizations, Glickman noted, "A single national organic standard will greatly reduce consumer confusion across the country." Activists who oppose techniques such as genetic engineering and irradiation applauded the new definition. Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists said, "It's amazing that people ask for something and really get it, especially from government."
But some critics object to the exclusion of products made through genetic engineering. Val Giddings of the Biotech Industry Organization said the guideline "seems to codify forcing organic farmers into a backwater that would deprive them of access to the best genetically improved varieties that humanity has ever produced" (Manning, USA Today, 3/8). National Food Processors Association spokesperson Kelly Johnston added, "While the public's views are important, rules governing food labeling and food safety must be based on sound science, and sound science cannot be determined by public opinion polling." The USDA will hear public comments on the proposal from March 13 through June 14, before making the standards effective later this year (AP/Washington Times, 3/8).