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US LAWMAKERS OKAY
SOME SYNTHETICS
FOR ORGANIC FOOD

WASHINGTON - Senate and House negotiators have agreed to allow some synthetic materials to be used in processing organic foods, officials of a trade group said, calling the step crucial for many organic food companies to stay in business.

The provision was added to the annual spending budget for the US Agriculture Department despite objections from a consumer group, which called it a sneak attack on organic food standards. The Organic Trade Association, representing North American businesses that grow and market organic foods, sought the special measure after a federal court ruling barred products processed with synthetic ingredients from using the organic label.

The 38 ingredients prohibited by the court ranged from ascorbic acid, a form of Vitamin C used as an additive, to the jam thickener pectin. The ruling also barred dairy herds converting to organic production from eating feed that was partially non-organic.

Senate and House negotiators on Wednesday night finalized a USDA spending bill for fiscal 2006 that would override the court's decision. The bill is expected to be approved by both chambers and signed into law by the president.

"Without those two key provisions, the face of the organic industry and the marketplace for organic products would have changed dramatically," the trade group's executive director, Katherine DiMatteo, told reporters.

She said businesses, farmers and consumers supported the measures.

USDA organic standards require different labels, according to whether a food is 100 percent organic, has 95 percent organic ingredients, or 70 percent or more organic ingredients.

The Organic Consumers Association, however, said the legislation was pushed through by major food corporations that are relative newcomers to the profitable, niche market.

"The process was profoundly undemocratic," said Ronnie Cummins, the director of the consumer group. "The end result is a serious setback for the multibillion-dollar alternative food and farming system that the organic community has painstakingly built up over the past 35 years."

For some organic companies, allowing the synthetic ingredients is a temporary fix.

"When we took a look at what the (court) ruling did to organic milk, we were aghast," said Theresa Marquez of Organic Valley, a 750-farm cooperative. Because the co-op used hydrogen peroxide in sterilizing cartons, it would have been forced to alter its label.

"It would have a huge impact both financially and from a marketing point of view," Marquez said.

Farmers in her co-op researched organic alternatives to the four synthetics now used, she said. "We've looked very, very closely at all of them to figure out how to substitute them with organics and we'll continue to do that."

Written by: Lisa Lambert

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