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USDA's PROPOSED
ORGANIC STANDARDS

And, consumers are willing to fork over a little more for that tomato. They've shown that they will pay a premium for organic food. National standards are our way of ensuring that consumers get what they pay for.

I should also point out that these standards were requested by the industry. After all, this is big business. Back in 1980, organic agriculture earned roughly $78 million. Last year, it was $3.5 billion. This is a very positive story because of the impact it's had and the potential still out there to improve small farm profits and viability. This is a top priority of this Administration. Since organic farming is usually done on a small scale, we hope these rules will help small farms continue to build a strong niche for themselves.

Part of the challenge has been that the United States currently has a patchwork of more than 40 private and state organic certification programs. Their goal, obviously, is to ensure consumers an authentically organic product. The downside for producers -- especially organic processors who use many ingredients from different states -- is that all these varying rules at a certain point become a tangled web -- inhibiting interstate sales. One, unified standard could clear the path and unleash even stronger economic growth in the organic industry.

National standards would clear a similar hurdle on the international front. Many countries, including those in the European Union, our biggest organic customer, have their own certification standards. They have little incentive to negotiate with 40 different U.S. entities to open their markets to our products. National standards allow us to negotiate greater access country-to-country. They also allow us to demand that imports meet an equivalent standard, ensuring our consumers one meaning of organic for domestic and imported products.

Greater income for small farmers and ranchers ... stronger exports ... one high, consistent standard for consumers ... clearly we have a lot to gain from this rule. But I want to make clear: This is a proposal. I want this document to serve as an informed starting point for a very public debate -- one that engages consumers, agriculture and the scientific community.

You'll find that this document is notable both for the positions it takes, and those it has yet to take. I want to take a moment to discuss these positions this proposal has yet to take, but must take before we are through. I have deliberately left open some of the more divisive questions -- not the least among them how we handle biotechnology and irradiation. It's a well known fact that the very best science has proven the products of biotechnology and the process of irradiation not only safe, but beneficial. I want to make clear that these rules are not about creating a category of agriculture that is safer than any other. We have one high standard for food safety in this country. Period. These rules are about giving consumers choices as to how their food is produced. I want them to be informed choices, but they are the consumers' to make.

I should point out that this rulemaking process has really gone above and beyond the call of duty in terms of soliciting public input. There's been a series of public meetings. We'll hold 3 or 4 more over the next few months. We've received letters, phone calls and e-mails, and I expect many more over the 90-day public comment period that starts tomorrow. All the addresses and phone numbers are in the press release. I'm also sending a letter to every Member of Congress asking for their help in getting the perspectives of their constituents. I want to hear from as many people as possible. We'll be accepting and publishing comments on the Internet as well.

We are off to a strong start with this proposed rule. But I have no doubt that together, we can make it an even stronger final rule -- giving a nice gift to consumers, agriculture, and especially our small farmers.


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