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Features on StarChefs The controversy surrounding the new “organic” label guidelines “organic” label guidelines The controversy surrounding the new “organic” label guidelines “organic” label guidelines The controversy surrounding the new “organic” label guidelines “organic” label guidelines The controversy surrounding the new “organic” label guidelines “organic” label guidelines - Food Debates on StarChefs
The controversy surrounding the new “organic” label guidelines “organic” label guidelines The controversy surrounding the new “organic” label guidelines “organic” label guidelines The controversy surrounding the new “organic” label guidelines “organic” label guidelines The controversy surrounding the new “organic” label guidelines “organic” label guidelines The controversy surrounding the new “organic” label guidelines “organic” label guidelines
The controversy surrounding the new “organic” label guidelines “organic” label guidelines The controversy surrounding the new “organic” label guidelines “organic” label guidelines

The Issue: New "organic" label guidelines

The Timeline:
On October 21, 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture raised the bar on public awareness of the organic concept by generating a set of strict organic production guidelines.

Four months later, several D.C. politicians created a loophole in the new organics bill in order to relax the standards for organic animal feed.

Critics of the October bill say:
The bill is riddled with inconsistencies and a vegetarian bias.

Upping the organic standards means a loss of money and resources, and the collapse of businesses.

Critics of the February provision say:
The new loophole means a loss of money, resources, and the integrity of the organic label.

The provision was passed in an underhanded manner, without a public hearing.

Discuss the Issue:
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References:
- Rep. Deal’s statement on “organic” food by Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.)

- “Who Pulled a Fast One on the Organic Food Industry?” by Judith Weintraub Washington Post




Archive
The controversy surrounding the new “organic” label guidelines “organic” label guidelines

Finger Pointing and Name Calling:
The Organic Movement’s New Face

by Nina Rubin

So you’re in the vegetable aisle at the grocery store.

Let’s say you have the choice between paying $0.49 for some carrots, or $1.50 for a seemingly identical bunch. Which do you think most people would choose? Especially if the only apparent difference is seven little letters. Seven letters - plus over a decade of debate, and the blood, sweat and tears of countless individuals throughout the world.

Those seven letters mean a world of difference to thousands, if not millions, of people on both sides of the organics debate. But let’s face it: outside of those circles, who really knows what the term “organic” actually means?

While the general populace is still playing catch up, an increasing number food industry folks are in the know. Why? Because organic food production is growing at a staggering rate – about 20 percent per year, according to the Organic Trade Association. Organics are in the big leagues now, and with retail sales exceeding the tens of billions, droves of agricultural execs want a piece of the action.

Which is why an event that occurred last year made such big waves, and not even just with the foodies and politicians. October 21, 2002 was a milestone in the history of the organics movement. On that day, the U.S. Department of Agriculture raised the bar on public awareness of the organic concept by generating a set of strict organic production guidelines. But this move was not without controversy.


Mo’ Regulations = Less Money

The issue is not as cut and dry as for vs. against organics. Many people are in the gray area, committed to the concept of creating organic standards, but opposed to the way in which those standards were implemented. So while some activists and agriculturalists celebrated the passing of the bill, others complained bitterly.

For meat producers, upping the organic standards often meant a loss of money, or even the collapse of entire businesses. With the new laws in place, many meat moguls who had formerly qualified as “organic” producers were unable to comply with the new regulations. The result? More than a few turned to other industries and livelihoods. Had they been given sufficient notice of the changes, they believe they might have been able to make a smooth transition to the new standards. Grain farmers were put in an equally tight spot, according to Rep. Nathan Deal, a Republican politician from Georgia. “Since land that produces organic grain must have had no commercial fertilizer or chemical insecticides applied for a period of three years prior to producing an organic crop, it would require a four year lead time to change crop land to organic production” [1].


Vegetarians “R” Us?

Beyond the loss of jobs and capital, the other main criticism is that the organics bill is riddled with glaring inconsistencies - and a vegetarian bias to go along with it. For Deal and others, the organic laws seem much more lenient for fruit and vegetable growers than for meat producers. They point to the fact that produce can be labeled as “organic” even if the seed or the plant stock is not organic, as long as the organic seed or stock is not “commercially available” [2]. However, if that same seed is fed to a head of cattle, for instance, the beef could not be labeled as organic, even if the producers complied with all of the other requirements for organic status.

These grievances led several D.C. politicians to make a bold political move, just four months after the organics bill was signed. A group of politicians (reputedly led by Deal and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, though no one is willing to claim authorship) tried to soften the blow for the struggling farmers by creating a loophole. The idea was to amend the organic guidelines with a provision – stuck in the middle of the 3,000-page federal spending bill – that would relax the standards for organic animal feed. Given all of the discrepancies in the organic regulations, they argued, what would be the harm in creating another one? (The loophole, by the way, indicated that when organic feed costs twice as much as conventional feed, meat and poultry could be given the non-organic feed and still labeled as organic.) The measure was signed into law on February 20th, after passing without debate through Congress.


Wasteful Thinking

The measure was a serious setback for those who had labored for over twelve years to standardize the organic label. More than just wasting energy, critics of the provision were concerned with the loss of money that had been invested in organic herds and grains. According to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who spearheaded an effort to repeal the provision (and sponsored the Organic Foods Production Act over a decade ago), “Organic products are the fastest-growing sector for our farm exports…our products are accepted worldwide because our standards are higher. Lowering our standards would squander our lead, and markets would begin closing to our products…it would be devastating to our organic producers” [3].


In-'te-gr-tee

Taking it to a more abstract level, many people believe that the provision caused a general loss of integrity of the organic label. Especially given that the whole point of the original bill was to achieve uniformity within the system, what’s the point of standardization with exceptions? (Not to mention the fact that the loophole could potentially lead to massive confusion, even amongst educated consumers.)

And speaking of integrity, another major objection was not to the provision itself, but to the way in which it was passed. After twelve painstaking years, a lot of people feel that all of that hard work was put to waste practically overnight. And not just overnight, but allegedly without a public hearing. Some say that this was entirely intentional, the goal being to prevent the House and Senate from being properly informed until it was too late. Not surprisingly, Deal and Hastert have repeatedly been called underhanded or even “fundamentally un-American” for their hand in the stunt [4].

Amidst the name-calling and lightning fast political activity, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really going on here. Whittle down the arguments, and the debate comes down to this: each side claims that the other’s actions have caused significant loss of money, resources, and integrity. With both sides claiming the moral high ground and pointing fingers at their “wasteful” adversaries, who’s to know what’s really at stake - or how to proceed?

Let the debate begin.


Footnotes:

1 Rep. Deal’s statement on “organic” food, http://www.house.gov/deal/press/pr-organic.shtml

2 Ibid.

3 Weintraub, Judith. “Who Pulled a Fast One on the Organic Food Industry?,” Washington Post, 19 March 2003, p. F01.

4 Ibid.




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