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The Planet

April 1998, Volume 5, Number 3



USDA 'Organic' Rules Are Flawed

    Under proposed new rules, food fertilized with sewage sludge that may contain toxic metals, irradiated with radioactive waste to kill bacteria, or genetically engineered to include toxins that kill plant pests could still be certified “organically grown.” Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a proposal to define which products can carry the “organic food” label. But the proposed rules fall far short of the standards embraced for years by certified organic farmers and accepted by consumers.

    “If the USDA’s plan is adopted as written, consumers will lose all faith in the ‘organic’ label, and a $3.5 billion industry in organic products,” said Club Executive Director Carl Pope.

    The draft standards blur the distinction between organic and conventional foods. They would allow factory farms to be certified organic and allow rendered animals to be fed to livestock.

    “Thanks to bureaucratic bungling, the proposal creates an unintended advantage for factory farming by making it easy for big, conventional agriculture to change its practices slightly to fit the new organic label,” said Debbie Neustadt, member of the Club’s Agricultural Committee. “It could be disastrous for the current organic industry.”

    Let the USDA know that the proposal directly conflicts with standard organic practices and consumer expectations, and that it is so deeply flawed it must be withdrawn and rewritten. Specifically:

    • It should require higher standards for livestock operations: Animals should have access to outdoors, should not be fed animal parts and manure, should not be treated with antibiotics and their feed should be organically grown.
    • It should not allow the USDA to prohibit the use of terms such as “pesticide free” or “no antibiotics or hormones,” especially as the agency allows synthetic pesticides and antibiotics in “organic” agriculture.
    • It must be consistent with the 1990 Organic Food Production Act and the recommendations of the National Organic Standards Board.

    To take action: The public comment period ends May 1. Send comments to: Eileen S. Stommes, Deputy Administrator, USDA-AMS-TM-NOP, Room 4007-S, AG Stop 0275, P.O. Box 96456, Washington, DC 20090-6456.

    Comments can also be faxed via the National Organic
    Program home page at
    Be sure to send a copy of your letter to your members of Congress.

    For more information: Contact either Mamatha Gowda, (202) 675-7908, or Debbie Neustadt (515) 265-2018, or visit and

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