The U.S. Department of Agricultura (USDA) announced n December the proposed national standards for the production and handling of organic food and fiber. Unfortunately, the proposed rules fall short of current practices of certified organic growers and consumer expectations of organics. After a three month public comment period to end on March 1 6, 1 998, the USDA will assess the comments received, decide on possible adjustments in the "rules" and then finalize them. Read on for background information and how to comment to the USDA. The Organic Food Production Act (OFPA) of 1990 mandated that national standards be established consistent wrth the principies of organic f arming and handling. A 13-member National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) was formed to study the issues and make a recommendation to the USDA, which it did after 5 years of work. Organic growers, f ood activists, and en viron mentali sts f ollowing these events appear to view the NOSB recommendations far more favorably than the rules just proposed by the USDA. While they presumably have a lot in common, the recommendations from the NOSB have been said to ref lect more closely the practices of the vast majority of organic growers and their commrtment to safer food and more sustainable farming methods. The USDA, in comparison, has chosen to ignore some of the recommendations in order to open for discussion the possible inclusión of some controversial technologies and products in the final versión of the federal organic rules. Most upsetting to organic growers and food activists has been the USDA's willingness to consider the following as acceptable within its defi nition of organic agriculture: Genetic engineering-using biotech methods to produce new varieties of foods; Food rradiation-exposing foods to radioactive nuclear wastes as a strategy to kill bacteria and lengthen shelf life; Municipal sludge-applying processed sewage as a fertilizercompost. In addition, the USDA's restrictions on the allo wable use of sy nthetic substances in organic farming are apparently much looser than what had been hoped for. Allo wing these substances and practices in organic production will dilute its meaning, diminishing consumer confidence in organic products and uttimately harm the organic ndustry. For more information, please refer to: People's Food Co-op's JanVFeb. issue of Connection; Organic Farmer's Marketing Association's web site: http.www.iquest.netofma; USDA's National Organic Program's web site: http:www.ams.usda.govnop. To comment on the proposed standards, stop by the People's Food Co-op to sign their letter (21 6 N. 4th Ave. in Ann Arbor; 734-994-91 74) or submit your comments to the USDA: Eileen S. Stommes, Deputy AdministratorUSDA-AMS-TM-NOPRoom 4007-SoAg Stop 0275P.O. Box 96456Washington, DC 20090-6456; Fax: 202-690-4632. Internet: You may send comments via the USDA's web site: http:www.ams.usda.govnop.
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