Archive for Friday, May 28, 2004

Government wins praise for dropping organic guidelines

Agriculture secretary rescinds rules that drew ire for weakening standards

May 28, 2004


— The government is receiving appreciation from the organic food industry for dropping guidelines that would have allowed limited use of pesticides and antibiotics in such products.

The guidelines had come under criticism by trade groups and lawmakers because they were perceived as weakening organic standards and undermining consumer confidence in the Agriculture Department's organic certification.

In rescinding the guidelines Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman ordered the department's Agricultural Marketing Service to work with organic officials "to determine the best solutions to the issues that have been raised."

The service is in charge of the National Organic Program, which oversees the department's certification of organic foods.

Veneman's action is "refreshing," said Jim Riddle of Winona, Minn., chairman of the National Organic Standards Board, a 15-member panel that advises the department. Veneman directed department officials to listen to the board; Riddle said the department often had not heeded its recommendations.

Riddle said he looked forward to helping establish effective processes to protect the program's integrity. He said the board could issue its recommendations on the guidance when it meets Oct. 12-14 in Washington.

Under the guidance, organic farmers could have used pesticides that contain inert chemical ingredients if a "reasonable effort" failed to determine what the ingredients were. The department also would have let milk be sold with the department's organic seal if it came from a cow that had been treated with antibiotics, provided the cow had been antibiotic-free for 12 months.

The guidance would have allowed ground fish as a protein supplement in livestock feed. Urvashi Rangan, a scientist at Consumers Union in Yonkers, N.Y., said the provisions weakened the value of the label, and she cited fishmeal as an example. Fish are not certified as organic, and some fish contain mercury and other chemicals, she said.

Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Assn., said Veneman's action was "exactly what we wanted." DiMatteo said any future clarifications of the organic standards ought to meet consumer needs.

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