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As 'organic' goes mainstream, USDA moves in to regulate


'There is fraud out there'

July 29, 1997
Web posted at: 7:57 p.m. EDT (2357 GMT)

From Correspondent Eugenia Halsey

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Organic foods have started to go mainstream. Sales of foods grown without herbicides and pesticides are growing 25 percent a year.

Now the federal government is developing rules that regulate what qualifies as "organic." For the past seven years, officials at the United States Department of Agriculture have been trying to come up with a single definition, a national list of what can and cannot be used in organic food.

CNN's Eugenia Halsey reports
icon 2 min. VXtreme streaming video

Currently, "organic" means different things from state to state. The USDA has been getting advice from the National Organic Standards Board.

"There is fraud out there," said Kathleen Merrigan of the National Organic Standards Board. "There are people who are claiming to have organic products that aren't really organic."icon (493K/23 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Kathleen Merrigan

The USDA's new rules aren't out yet. But the board has come up with a definition of "organic" that says, in part: "Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of (chemical) residues. However, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water."

Once the new rules go into effect, it will be a federal offense to label something "organic" unless it has been certified.

Certification of farmers and handlers will be done by private or state programs approved by the USDA. The new organic standards will pertain not only to fresh fruit and vegetables, but to processed food.


The rules also apply to meat, now labeled commonly as "natural." In describing meat that qualifies for the label, Robert Anderson of Walnut Acres Organic Farms said: "There are no hormones or growth promoters. We recommend that humane treatment was a key to the process."

Although the organic food industry has been pushing for a national standard, some farmers are worried certification will cost too much. And some scientists fear the government will allow genetically engineered foods to be called organic.

"Many people in this country are looking to the organic community as a place to find foods that do not have genetically engineered organisms in them," said Jane Rissler of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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