USDA Announces New National Organic Standards

On December 20, 2000, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Dan Glickman announced the Final National Organic Program Rule, the national standards for the production, handling and processing of organically grown food in the United States. The new rule increases the minimum percentage of organic ingredients in products labeled "Made with Organic Ingredients" from 50% to 70%. Products labeled "Organic" must be 95% organic, based on the Environmental Protection Agency's 5% pesticide residue tolerance. 100% organic products may be labeled as such.

USDA released a proposed organic rule in October 1998, which allowed bioengineered crops, sewage sludge, and irridation (known as the "big three'). This early version was met with much criticism and sparked an unprecedented 325,603 public comments. The proposal was then reissued in March, 2000 without the "big three." Many changes have been made to the present version since last March.

At a press conference held in a Washington, DC Fresh Fields Supermarket, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), author of the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), said he felt like a proud father and was optimistic about the opportunities the rule would bring to organic farmers. "Today will long be remembered as the certified beginning of the next growth phase of American organic agriculture," said Senator Leahy.

While it is generally agreed that the final rule is an improvement over the proposed rule, many organic farmers and environmentalists offered some criticism. According to organic farmer Eric Kindberg, Ripplebrook Farms in Fairfield, IA, problems with the final version include: the final rule allows the use of synthetic materials, OFPA mandates that no synthetic substances contact an organically produced product or be an ingredient of organic products; the rule excludes restaurants and retail food services who are processing food, labeling and selling it as organic from being certified; the rule allows a dairy herd exception from the requirement that cattle must be fed organically produced feed for 12 months prior to selling organic milk and dairy products; the rule categorically allows conventional produced products to be substituted for organically produced ingredients in up to 5% of the product, unless the organic becomes commercially available; and the rule does not provide for the public to access certification documents, OFPA indicates that the public should have access to these documents.

For a copy of the Final National Organic Program Rule visit the National Organic Program website at www.ams.usda.gov/nop or call (202) 512-1800 ask for Federal Register, Vol. 65, No. 246, December 21, 2000. For more information contact Beyond Pesticides/NCAMP.