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Nature's bounty - A controversial definition of organic food is under attack

点击量:   时间:2017-07-17 02:01:01

By Kurt Kleiner Washington DC THE US government seems poised to abandon a plan to allow food treated with radiation, fertilised with sewage sludge or created by genetic engineering to carry an official “organic” label. After receiving a deluge of complaints from buyers and sellers of organic produce, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has told activists that it will think again. Members of a delegation that met a senior USDA official last week say they were promised that the rules would be changed. “The uproar is so loud, so dramatic, that they have literally hundreds of thousands of eyes on them in a rule-making process that usually only 20 or 30 people are interested in,” says Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, California. The organic industry itself had asked for national standards on organic labelling. At present, different states in the US have different requirements for an organic label, and some have no rules at all. Most people who buy organic food do so in the expectation of obtaining entirely “natural” products. But the USDA rules, published last December, ignored the advice of an advisory board from the organic food business and focused more narrowly on the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers. Provided none of these were used, the USDA wanted food to be labelled organic even if it contained genetically engineered material or had been irradiated to kill microorganisms. The proposed rules would also allow the use of fertiliser made from sewage sludge. Since then, the USDA has received about 10 000 comments, most of them negative. Last week, deputy agriculture secretary Richard Rominger met a delegation of critics. Margaret Mellon, who lobbies in Washington DC on agricultural issues for the Union of Concerned Scientists, says the group was promised that the rules would be changed to satisfy the organic food industry. Rominger would not comment on what he said, and a USDA spokesman stresses that no final decision has been made. But the period for public comment on the proposed rules, which was supposed to end in mid-March, has been extended until the end of April because of the massive response. While some activists are already claiming a victory, others remain cautious. Scowcroft, for one, is waiting until he sees the wording of the revised rules. It is still possible, he warns, that the rules could set off a new transatlantic trade war. The European Union has enforced a common standard for organic plant produce since 1991. It rules out irradiation and the use of sewage sludge. A ban on organic labelling for genetically modified crops, already applied voluntarily by member states, will be added this year, and rules for organic livestock are expected to be agreed soon. So if the USDA rules differ significantly from these standards,