Goodness guaranteed: the federal government finally puts the U.S. seal of approval on organic produce.
Ten years ago, you had to be a true believer true believer
One who is deeply, sometimes fanatically devoted to a cause, organization, or person: "a band of true believers bonded together against all those who did not agree with them" to buy organic produce. It was expensive, and it looked awful--small, shriveled shriv·el
intr. & tr.v. shriv·eled or shriv·elled, shriv·el·ing or shriv·el·ling, shriv·els
1. To become or make shrunken and wrinkled, often by drying: and covered with the bruises and holes wrought by unsprayed bugs. But that was then, and organic produce has come a long way since. Visit a good health food store now, and you'll find fruits and veggies Veggies of Nottingham, also known as Veggies Catering Campaign, is a campaigning group based in Nottingham, England, promoting ethicalbum alternatives to mainstream fast food. that easily rival any in Stop & Shop: plump, shiny and blemish-free.
Customers have been responding to organic farmers' increasing savvy. In 1992, the once-tiny organic market grew 15 percent, to $1.4 billion, and it is predicted to grow 25 percent per year in the next decade. Organic's share of new food products grew 38 percent in 1993, up to 6.6 percent of the total. According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. a Public Voice survey in 1993, 83 percent of American families would prefer to buy organic produce. And a Colorado State University Colorado State University, at Fort Collins; land-grant with state and federal support; chartered 1870, opened 1879 as an agricultural college, assumed present name in 1957. There is a veterinary teaching hospital, an agricultural campus, and a research campus. study earlier this year revealed that consumers are willing to pay a 23 percent premium when the food is certified as organic.
In recognition of this growing corner of the food market, the sweeping Federal Organic Foods Production Act, passed in 1990 with a strong push from Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), will involve the feds in accrediting growers, testing crops for chemical contamination See: contamination. , monitoring organic imports, checking up on livestock living conditions living conditions npl → condiciones fpl de vida
living conditions npl → conditions fpl de vie
living conditions living and reading bag labels.
The Act's passing got very little attention from hard-working organic farmers, produce managers or their customers--most whom E interviewed hadn't heard of it. But it will affect the organic community in a major way. Katherine DiMatteo, director of the Greenfield, Massachusetts-based Organic Foods Production Association (OFPANA), thinks the new law will be beneficial because "it creates consistency--people know that the produce they're buying has been certified as clean by a federal agency."
Passing a law, unfortunately, is not the same as implementing it. Congress unaccountably un·ac·count·a·ble
1. Impossible to account for; inexplicable: unaccountable absences.
2. took almost a year to appoint the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB NOSB National Ocean Sciences Bowl (Washington, DC)
NOSB National Ocean Science Bowl
NOSB National Organic Standard Board
NOSB Nosymbols (assembly language ASM51 assembler control)
NOSB Non-Over-Determined Sub-Band ) to oversee the process of turning the broad law into specific rules. Board Chairman Michael Sligh, whose day job is with the South Carolina-based Rural Advancement Foundation, cites bureaucratic foul-ups and delays caused by the Bush-Clinton transition, plus a determined effort by the board to allow maximum public input.
It wasn't until early summer of this year that NOSB delivered most of its recommendations--on crop and livestock production, food handling and labeling, accreditation of organic certifiers and importation of foreign produce--to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA USDA,
n.pr See United States Department of Agriculture. ). The agency will open them up for another public comment period in early 1995.
With such an open process, there was bound to be dissention, and the board received widely varying opinion on questions like: Does organic produce have to be grown from organic seeds? Most farmers, claiming that such seeds are hard to get, said no, while companies like Seeds of Change (which markets only organic) lobbied hard for yes. "If we'd required organic seeds, a lot of farmers would have been put out of business," said board member Margaret Clark, a Washington State produce manager.
Board member Dean Eppley, a Wabash, Indiana farmer, said there was also heated discussion of the board's eventual decision to grant exemption from regulation to the small producer with sales less than $5,000 a year. "Some said the exemption should be set at $10,000 or $20,000, and others thought there shouldn't be an exemption at all," Eppley said.
The board's wide-ranging recommendations appear to represent a good compromise between the different interest groups. Farmers will be spending more time on paperwork: they'll have to come up with a wide-ranging "organic handling plan," covering everything from the materials they use to their pest management, livestock care and waste management practices. Producers will have to list percentages of organic ingredients on their packaging, and those listings will be monitored in annual spot checks. The dissembling dis·sem·ble
v. dis·sem·bled, dis·sem·bling, dis·sem·bles
1. To disguise or conceal behind a false appearance. See Synonyms at disguise.
2. To make a false show of; feign. phrase "organic when available" is banned.
Water used to wash conventional produce can't also be used on organic fruits and vegetables. X-rays can't be used for organic inspection, and ionizing radiation i·on·i·zing radiation
High-energy radiation capable of producing ionization in substances through which it passes.
Ionizing radiation , used to kill insects or micro-organisms, is prohibited.
To prevent the almost inevitable pesticide "drift"--contamination carried by the wind from adjoining conventional fields--NOSB could have refused organic certification to so-called "split operations" (like, for instance, board member Eppley's), with both organic and conventional farming. Some members of the organic community, the board wrote, "believe split operations are difficult or impossible to certify because the risks of contamination or fraud are too high..." But the board decided split operations were permitted by the law, so it will require only very careful spraying and buffer zones between the crops.
NOSB could also have created a "zero tolerance The policy of applying laws or penalties to even minor infringements of a code in order to reinforce its overall importance and enhance deterrence.
Since the 1980s the phrase zero tolerance has signified a philosophy toward illegal conduct that favors strict imposition of " for pesticides, but, concluding that it would be "impractical, expensive and difficult to achieve," it chose to allow five percent of the levels set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA FDA
Food and Drug Administration
n.pr See Food and Drug Administration.
n.pr the abbreviation for the Food and Drug Administration. ) for conventional produce. NOSB is still hashing out its stand on the inhumane in·hu·mane
Lacking pity or compassion.
inhu·manely adv. but space-efficient "confinement" systems used by large farmers to raise poultry, pigs and cows.
Animal antibiotics will be allowed only in medical emergencies, a stand opposed by Mel Coleman of Coleman Natural Meats in Denver, Colorado, who consulted with the board on its livestock standards. "Our own company standards are stricter, frankly," he said. "We tell our customers, 'No antibiotics, ever,' and if an animal gets sick, we take it out of the organic program."
Organic producers are expected to accept the new standards. "Everyone now realizes that they are going to have to comply with the NOSB rules," says Eric Newman, a Montana food co-op manager and co-chairman of the Ohio-based Organic Crop Improvement Association The Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) is a member-owned, nonprofit organization, which provides research, education and certification services to organic growers, processors and handlers around the world. .
Until the federal law takes effect, organic producers are subject to a hodge-podge of state laws with widely varying provisions. Only 11 states (including Texas, California, Florida, Washington, Colorado, Idaho, New Hampshire New Hampshire, one of the New England states of the NE United States. It is bordered by Massachusetts (S), Vermont, with the Connecticut R. forming the boundary (W), the Canadian province of Quebec (NW), and Maine and a short strip of the Atlantic Ocean (E). , Maryland, Tennessee, Kentucky and Rhode Island Rhode Island, island, United States
Rhode Island, island, 15 mi (24 km) long and 5 mi (8 km) wide, S R.I., at the entrance to Narragansett Bay. It is the largest island in the state, with steep cliffs and excellent beaches. ) do much more than benignly ignore both organic production and sales. California, however, has both stringent standards and regular inspections of its health food stores.
The state laws don't address interstate shipping, where, according to DiMatteo, contamination can occur. Freight trains are sometimes sprayed with pesticides before taking on large produce loads that include organics. Fruit packed in ice can also be stored underneath conventional shipments that have been heavily sprayed. All these problems are addressed in the new federal law, DiMatteo said, adding that she doesn't think contamination is frequent in any case.
"The important thing to remember," says DiMatteo, "is that organic is a production system, not a product safety claim. There are going to be traces of pesticides present. We are an environmentally damaged planet."
While the Act devotes much attention to farmers and processors, it completely leaves out the next link in the chain--the health food stores. The stores' lobbyists were able to get them exempted from most, but not all, of the federal bill's provisions. But now some retailers are wondering if some kind of voluntary regulation would increase consumer confidence--particularly at operations like the Pratts stores in Oklahoma, which sell both conventional and organic produce. How do they keep the first from chemically dousing the second? J.B. Pratt, Jr., who has nine stores selling as much as 20 percent organic, says, "It's not all that hard to keep them apart. We find that if we put the organic off in a corner, it gets lost and doesn't sell."
OFPANA has drafted non-obligatory standards for in-store displays and food handling, which are still in internal draft form. David Schardt, a nutritionist nu·tri·tion·ist
One who is trained or is an expert in the field of nutrition.
nutritionist Dietitian, see there with the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI CSPI Center for Science in the Public Interest
CSPI Corporate Service Price Index
CSPI Cumulative Schedule Performance Index ), thinks such internal industry standards are a good idea. "If people think a product is healthy and they pay more for it, as they do with anything labelled organic, they should be able to trust it," he said.
Pratt agrees that trust is important if the price barrier is to be hurdled. "For our first-time customers, price is an obstacle," he said, "but once they understand what the word 'organic' really means--the water quality issues, the soil fertility--they're much more willing to pay extra. Parents, especially, don't have a problem paying more for something that's going to have effects into the next generation."
Contact: Organic Foods Production Association of North America, P.O. Box 1078, Greenfield, MA 01301/(413)774-7511; Organic Crop Improvement Association, 3185 Township Road 179, Bellefontaine, OH 43311/(513)592-4983.
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See : Escape MOTAVALLI is managing editor of E Magazine.