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USDA sets national organic standards.

After a decade of deliberation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has set national standards that determine what makes a food product fit to be called organic. Besides offering labeling guidelines, the new standards also cover the production and distribution of organic foods. The impetus for the guidelines was the Organic Foods Production Act, passed as part of the 1990 Farm Bill. However, it was seven years before the initial regulations were formulated and proposed. In the three years since, the USDA received some 275,000 comments on the initial rules that led to the final set of rules that were announced on December 20, 2000.

The new labeling guidelines allow products that have been certified as 100%-certified-organic products can be labeled as "100% Organic"; products with 95% or more organic ingredients can be called organic on the primary panel on the label; products with 70% to 95% organic ingredients can be described as made with organic ingredients, and up to three organic ingredients can be listed; and products with less than 70% organic content may only use the term organic in the ingredient information panel.

The new rules also specify prohibited practices, including the use of sewage sludge and irradiation; add parasite-fighting agents to the list of allowable synthetic substances in livestock production; mandate implementation of production practices to "maintain or improve the operation's natural resources, including soil and water quality;" set specific intervals between the application of raw manure to crops and the harvest of those crops; prohibit the use of antibiotics in livestock production; and provide for more opportunity to resolve cases of noncompliance prior to revocation of certification.

Marketers that want to label their products as organic must have them certified by a USDA-accredited certification agency. The farms on which the raw ingredients were grown must also be certified and so, too, any processors or other types of handlers involved with the product throughout the supply chain. Farms and handling operations that sell less than $5,000 worth of product per year are exempt from the certification process, but must comply with the standards and labeling requirements. Retailers that sell organic products are also exempt from certification.

The rules come along at a time when organic products in the U.S. including fabrics as well as foods -- have been experiencing growth rates of at least 20% per year for about a decade, reaching to $6.6 billion in 2000. Less than one percent of U.S. farmland is currently under organic cultivation, but that is more than double what it was at the beginning of the 1990s. Globally, retail sales of organic products have been estimated at around $21.5 billion.
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Publication:Ice Cream Reporter
Date:Jan 20, 2001
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