By PHILIP BRASHER
WASHINGTON – The government today released the first national standards for growing and processing organic food, a decade after Congress ordered the development of uniform rules to ease the marketing of the products.
The new regulations, which will replace a hodgepodge of state standards, will ban the use of biotechnology or irradiation in organic products, which are grown without the use of most synthetic pesticides.
The rules also will ban the use of antibiotics in organic meat and require dairy cattle to have access to pasture.
Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman called the rules “the strictest, most comprehensive organic standards in the world.”
Consumers “who want to buy organic can do so with the confidence of knowing exactly what is it they’re buying,” Glickman said today at a news conference at a Washington health-food store.
Foods that meet the new federal standards will bear a seal “USDA Organic.”
Farmers and handlers will have 18 months to comply with the standards.
Amy Forgues, a Vermont farmer, said the rules were “strict but … also farm friendly.”
The Agriculture Department first proposed a set of national organic standards in 1997, but withdrew them after farmers and others in the $6 billion-a-year organic industry strongly objected to allowing biotech crops and irradiation. Sewage sludge also would have been permitted as fertilizer under the 1997 proposal.
USDA was required to develop the rules under a 1990 law.
Out of more than 10,000 farms nationwide that claim to be organic, fewer than 7,000 are approved by the 88 different state or private certifying agencies around the country.
Nineteen states have no regulations for organic farming. Some states have production standards but no certification process for ensuring that farmers comply with them.
The food industry has been concerned that national standards could lead consumers to think that organic products are safer or healthier than conventional foods.
The National Food Processors Association wanted USDA to require a disclaimer on organic labels saying that such food was no better in safety, quality or nutrition than other products.
USDA declined to add the disclaimer, but altered the seal so that it doesn’t look like the USDA’s shield that goes on meat, eggs and other products that are government-inspected.
The Food Processors Association agreed that it was important to have national standards for organic products.
“It is in the best interests of consumers, and of food producers, that there be consistent labeling requirements for food products,” said Kelly Johnston, a spokesman for the Food Processors Association.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.