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Taking Wise Action to Help Protect Organic
- By Patricia Dines
- (c) Patricia Dines, 2007. All rights reserved.
- Unfortunately, dramatic headlines and flawed analysis are
clouding consumers' ability to take informed action about what's
going on now with organic standards.
- For instance, the Press Democrat's June 9 front page article,
"FDA Loosens Rules For Organic" erroneously paints a picture of
organic regulations gone wild. A skimming reader could easily
conclude that a product could be called organic but have no
organic ingredients, which is absolutely false. But how many
readers understand enough about the regulations to sort this out?
Instead, they're probably left just a little less certain about
organic's integrity, a little less enthusiastic about supporting
- The current issue is actually much more narrow and focused
than that picture, a technical clarification in how standards for
organic processed foods are implemented. In fact, the Organic
Trade Association (OTA) actually sees this clarification as a
tightening of the rules, rectifying something that was
inadequately defined before.
- It's still helpful to take action on this issue, but informed
action will better protect organic's gift to our health and
- (1) The current issue is what's allowed in processed foods
that are called organic. There's no impact on organic produce
- (2) From the inception of the national regulations, these
have been the top two categories of organic processed
- "100% Organic" which has 100% organic ingredients
(excluding water and salt, which it doesn't make sense to define
as organic), and
- "Organic" which has at least 95% organic ingredients.
The other 5% of the product can't include GMOs, but can include
non-organic items, if organic of that item isn't commercially
- This exception seems to have been established so that the lack
of certain minor adjunct ingredients in organic form wouldn't
block entire product categories from being organic. However, I and
others disagree with this choice. "Organic" should mean 100% for
processed foods, as it does with produce. If a producer can't find
something organic, they should encourage someone to produce it,
and in the meantime call their product 95% organic or
- However, this design was decided years ago, and for me the
solution has been simple: I check the labels for any product other
than 100% organic to see what else is in there. I think organic
overall is valuable enough for me to make this small
- (3) What's being debated now is what's allowed in the other
5% in the "organic" category. Previously, each organic
certifier determined its standard for "not commercially
available," which caused inconsistent application not visible to
the consumer. Two years ago, a judge decided that the USDA needed
to centrally determine which ingredients would get the "not
commercially available" designation, and food producers would
submit requests and justifications to get on that approved list.
Thus this determination is brought to a consistent and visible
level, which is a good thing.
- (4) So, based on the petitions received, the USDA has
proposed 38 minor ingredients (such as rice starch and food
colorings) for this approved list. That's all the current news
is. Important, yes, but all of organic isn't at stake here.
- Now, some of us would prefer that there be no exceptions list
at all, and I encourage you to act for that. However, as long as
flexibility is allowed, it needs to be defined. That's why the
current proposed list isn't a "loosening" of the rules but a
clarification of them.
- TAKE ACTION: However, you can object to the
specific 38 items they've allowed, during the public comment
period. I've put links on my website to sites that allow you take
quick action on this issue. See <www.healthyworld.org/organicregs.html>.
This webpage also shows the newspaper articles on this topic, as
well as the OTA perspective, and my comments about what's useful
information and what's erroneous.
- (5) Most importantly, be assured that overall the organic
regulations are intact and worthy of our continued support.
Organic is the best way we have right now to support food
grown without toxics. Yes, we still need to read labels, watchdog
the USDA, and stand up for organic's integrity, but from
understanding, not erroneous fear.
- I hope that this article helps you participate in maintaining
the opportunity of organic for us all. To keep informed about
these and other ecological issues, check out my EcoNews Blog at
- Patricia Dines is Author of The Organic Guide to Sonoma,
Napa, and Mendocino Counties, and Editor and Lead Writer for
The Next STEP newsletter, which gently educates readers
about toxics and alternatives.
Have questions about going green? Email them to <info
[at] patriciadines.info> with "EcoHealthy Living" in the
subject line. We will let you know if we cover your topic in future
EcoHealthy Living is a syndicated column. Contact Ms. Dines for
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This entire website is (c) Patricia
Dines, 1998-2007. All rights reserved.
Page last updated 08/04/07