Washington National standards for organic food will be released soon, and they will make clear that such products aren't safer or more nutritious than conventional products, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman says.
The rules will be one of Glickman's last acts in office, as will completing a ban on road building in 58.5 million of the 192 million acres of national forests that he oversees. Less certain is when his department will require nutrition labels on meat, something President Clinton proposed last spring, Glickman said in an interview Wednesday.
The organic rules, which USDA was required to develop under a 1990 law, have been debated inside and outside the department throughout Glickman's nearly six years in office.
The rules, which will replace a hodgepodge of state standards for organic agriculture, will "provide some certainty for marketing these products at home and overseas," Glickman said.
The food industry cites consumer research to support its claim that the special USDA seal that would go on the labels of organic products may lead consumers to believe that the organic products are preferable to food made with conventionally grown ingredients. The seal the department proposed this spring would include the words: "USDA Certified Organic."
The National Food Processors Assn. wants the department to add a disclaimer with wording such as: "This symbol does not signify that the food is superior with respect to safety, quality, or nutrition, compared to a food that does not bear the symbol."
Glickman didn't say how he would address the industry's concern, but said the final regulations "will be clear that these rules are not to disparage in any way any other kinds of foods."
The Agriculture Department first proposed a set of national organic standards in 1997, but withdrew them after the $6 billion-a-year organic industry strongly objected to allowing biotech crops, irradiation and sewage sludge.
"It's only the beginning of the National Organic Program," said DiMatteo. "There's much more work that will have to be done on the farm, in the processing facilities and in USDA to make sure there is a viable organic sector in American agriculture," she said.