USDA Says What Is and Isn't Organic
Organic: the Official Definition continued...
A spokesperson says the agency tried to come up with a system
that was not so stringent that it would be very difficult for farmers and
manufacturers to convert to organic production, or so weak that the term
'organic' would be meaningless.
The standards, for instance, require that organic meats,
poultry, eggs, and dairy products must come from animals given no antibiotics
or growth hormones. Other organic foods must be produced without using
most conventional pesticides, petroleum-based or sewage sludge-based
fertilizers, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation.
Under the national rule, only foods that are 95-100% organic
may display the USDA Organic seal on the front packaging. Items that are
at least 70% organic may list such ingredients on the main panel, while
products that are less than 70% organic may not make any organic claims up
front, but may specify organically produced ingredients on the side panel.
Anyone who improperly sells or labels a product 'organic' can
be fined up to $10,000 for each violation.
Rules or No Rules, the Debate Rages On
Natalie is pleased that Uncle Sam has come up with uniform
standards for organic foods. Even with the understanding that organic products
may contain some pesticides, she still prefers the specialty items to the
"There has been some cancer, childhood autism, and
Asperger's Syndrome in our family," she explains. "I just wonder if it
might not be linked to all the preservatives [in regular products]."
Her concern strikes at the root of a longstanding dispute over
whether eating organic is better for people and the environment.
Christine Bruhn, PhD, a food science expert with the Institute
of Food Technologists, says at least 60% of consumers believe that organics are
safer, more nutritious, and better for the environment. To her knowledge,
however, there are no valid scientific data to back up those beliefs.
Yet, Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers
Association, points to what he says are thousands of consumer reports showing
that regular products have three to four times more pesticide residue compared
with organic items. The pesticide use, he claims, is not only harmful to the
soil used for crops, but dangerous for people. "Every fourth time a child
reaches for a conventional apple in America," he says, "they're getting
a level of pesticide residue that even the EPA finds troublesome."