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THE USDA ORGANIC GUIDELINES

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a revised proposal for national organic labeling standards. The revised standards exclude genetically modified ingredients, food grown on sewage sludge, and irradiated meats. The plan calls for the USDA to cover the first round of all direct fees for farmers, handlers and certifiers. Certification for farmers and others will last 5 years and will be administered by the USDA.

At the announcement, Betsy Lydon, program director for Mothers and Others for a Livable Planet, said, "Clearly, the USDA has listened to the overwhelming public outcry for strong standards that help protect consumers and small producers. This long-awaited federal rule will help our members and consumers everywhere locate organic foods and trust the label."

When the original proposal was released in December 1997, the USDA received a record 275,000 letters from consumers, activists and producers expressing concerns that the rule was not strong enough. According to Kathleen Merrigan of the USDA, "This proposal is a complete re-write of the one introduced in 1997. There is not a section that didn't change."

Bob Anderson, chair of the National Organic Standards Board and owner of the oldest organic farm in the U.S., applauded the new standards, emphasizing that they will establish the label as meaningful to consumers, assuring that "strict organic standards will be embraced by producers and consumers alike."

The USDA proposal also establishes a label for organic meat, an ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standard for trade in international markets, livestock standards specifying that animals not be confined and must be fed organic feed; provides crop insurance for organic farmers; and establishes a $5 million research program for organic production.

The proposed rule will now undergo a standard 90-day comment period where groups and individuals can express concerns or raise questions about what this means for consumers, farmers, organic food certifiers and the environment. Sec. Glickman expects the final rule to come out before year's end.

Written by: Jennifer Kelly, Environmental Media Services


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