The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced plans to establish new national standards for the production and processing of “organic” foods and meats.
The new rules, expected to take effect this summer, would restrict the use of pesticides on crops labeled “organic,” ban the use of sewage sludge as a fertilizer on such crops, outlaw the use of antibiotics or hormones in “organically raised animals,” and require animal feed to be 100 percent organically produced. No genetically modified seeds or irradiation techniques could be used in production or processing.
The new rules would also require that farmers desiring to label their products as “organic” go through a government-designed planning process, and their operations would have to be certified by an approved state or private agency.
The USDA has established a Web site, www.ams.usda.gov/nop/ that provides information on the proposal and allows for public comment. The comment period opened March 13 and runs through June 12.
The Organic Trade Association said the proposed rules “give the consumers assurance that they’ve been looking for, that the products meet a set of standards that have been enforced and that those standards are the same regardless of the state it was grown in.”
The National Food Processors Association disagreed, countering that,”by excluding the products of agricultural biotechnology, as well as products that have been treated with irradiation, the USDA has limited the tools available to farmers and food producers to enhance the safety and quality of the food supply.”
The proposed USDA standards would replace state standards, but enforcement of the new rules would continue to be the responsibility of state or private groups. Nineteen states currently have no organic food regulations.
Under the new rules, producers and processors would have to be certified as “USDA Certified Organic.” Each of an applicant firm’s production and processing facilities would be inspected annually, and extensive record-keeping would be required. State agencies or private certification would run the inspection and certification programs, and would also conduct pre-harvest and post-harvest testing for contaminants. Fees and other charges sufficient to cover the costs of the program would be collected from applicant firms and from private agencies seeking accreditation to conduct the program.
In 1998, the U.S. organic foods industry sold more than $4 billion worth of products; sales are expected to reach $6 billion in 2000.
For more information
see the USDA’s National Organic Program Web site at www.ams.usda.gov/nop/ to get the full text of the proposed rules, submit comments or search those that have already been submitted, and find scores of related resources.