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SUPPORT ORGANIC STANDARDS
BY APRIL 30TH

U.S. plans would banish genuine organic produce by April 30, 1998. Oprah Winfrey is an unlikely hero of the battle against big business. Yet the case she won last month, in which she established her right to express an opinion about the merits of eating beef burgers, ranks with the McDonald's libel trial as one of the few serious setbacks suffered by the agro-industrial combines seeking to monopolize world food production.

She had been sued by a syndicate of monster cattle ranchers, under the surreal "food disparagement" laws introduced in 14 American states to prevent people from questioning such practices as feeding bovine offal to cows. These laws are a compelling demonstration of the lengths to which U.S. legislators will go to defend the interests of corporations against the interests of the citizen.

Winfrey might have won her battle, but the war waged by an industry that can tolerate no dissent has only just begun. Its latest attempt to silence criticism and eliminate good practice is already well-advanced.

At the end of April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will close its consultations on a new national standard for organic farming. Its proposals have horrified small farmers, consumer groups and animal welfare campaigners. If adopted and implemented as protesters predict, they will outlaw genuine organic production all over the world. (For more information, see USDA National Organic Program).

The USDA would allow fruit and vegetables to be labeled "organic" in the United States which have been genetically engineered, irradiated, treated with additives and raised on contaminated sewage sludge. Under the new proposals, "organic" livestock can be confinement raised, fed with the offal of other animals and injected with antibiotics. "Organic" produce, in the brave new world of American oligopoly, will be virtually indistinguishable from conventionally-toxic food.

The solution would seem to be obvious: genuine organic producers should call their food something else. But the USDA is nothing if not farsighted. The new proposals prohibit the setting of standards higher than those established by the department. Farmers will, in other words, be forbidden by law from producing and selling good food.

There's no mystery about why U.S. agribusiness wants the USDA to set these new standards. The consumption of organic food is rising by 20 to 30 percent per year and, in some countries, is likely to become the dominant land use. Organic farming is labor intensive. It responds best to small-scale production, matched to the peculiarities of the land.

Ask the USDA to rewrite the rules. Write the USDA a personal letter (or email) and tell them how important it is to develop standards that encourage environmental stewardship and a safe food supply. Mention that the rewritten rules must adhere to the requirements of the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 and to the principles consistently used by organic farmers.

Excerpted with permission from the San Diego Earth Times


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