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Linda Ciampa on USDA standards for organic foods

December 20, 2000
3 p.m. EST

Linda Ciampa is a producer and correspondent for CNN's Health and Medical unit.

CNN Moderator: Welcome to CNN online, Linda Ciampa.

Linda Ciampa: Hello everyone and thanks for joining us

CNN Moderator: Does "organic" mean pesticide-free growing practices?

Linda Ciampa: It does not mean organic growers cannot use biological controls. Many gardeners rely on things such as B-T and insecticide soaps to control pests.

CNN Moderator: Why did the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) develop these standards?

Linda Ciampa: These new standards were released today because in 1990, the Organic Foods Production Act was passed as a part of the Farm bill. It has taken a decade now to come up with the regulations that were unveiled today.

  CNN In-Depth:

CNN Moderator: Does this certification include the type of soil amendments farmers may use?

Linda Ciampa: Yes, it does. The new rules spell out the substances farmers must avoid. It also sets down expectations for soil conservation and enrichment, as well as rules for how organics are marketed and labeled. It covers the whole gamut for how organics are grown, harvested and sold.

CNN Moderator: Is there any controversy within the food industry about these new standards?

Organic food
Genetically modified food

Linda Ciampa: Definitely! Some of the people in the food industry are concerned that when people see this organic label, they will assume food is healthier and more nutritious than conventionally grown food. As a matter of fact, the National Food Processors Association called for a disclaimer from the government to be included on organic products that would have said there is no evidence that organically grown food is more nutritious than conventionally grown food. But, that didn't happen today.

CNN Moderator: The law provides for local certifying agents. Who will they be?

Linda Ciampa: The new national standards are going to replace the local standards so there will be one uniform regulation instead of a hodge-podge between the states. There will be certifying agents from the federal government, but exactly how those agents are going to be deployed, I am not sure.

CNN Moderator: Who was involved in deciding what the criteria would be for foods to be certified "organic"?

Linda Ciampa: This has been in development now for ten years. Three years ago the USDA released a proposed organic rule that encountered overwhelming public response. The government says it received more than 275,000 comments from the public and the government says it looked at each comment. The final rule which they came up with tried to consider all concerns, so there was a lot of comment from the public and interest groups.

From Economy_Stupid: Have those certified "organic" standards been relaxed over the past ten years?

Linda Ciampa: There have been no national organic standards until today, so anything that has been certified 'organic' is from the states' own rules. Not all states have had the same rules, some were stricter and more detailed than others. What this new rule hopes to do is create uniformity.

CNN Moderator: Since we have a new administration coming in, is there concern among organic advocates that this new administration will weaken the standards or eliminate them all together?

Linda Ciampa: The new standards will now be published in the Federal Register and farmers have 18 months to comply if they want their food or livestock labeled organic. As far as what the new administration would do, it is pure speculation.

CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Linda Ciampa.

Linda Ciampa: My pleasure!

Linda Ciampa joined the chat room via telephone from Atlanta, GA and provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Wednesday, December 20, 2000

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U.S. government to issue first standards on organic foods


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