Washington March 3, 2010 - (Associated Press) - New federal
rules that define what makes milk and meat organic have natural
food advocates optimistic that the government is committed to
ensuring the label means something.
U.S. consumers bought $24 billion worth of organic products in
2008. But for many, the purchases came with uncertainty about what
they were getting for their money.
"During the Clinton and the Bush administrations there wasn't a
lot of teeth in the enforcement aspect of it," said Tom Willey, 61,
an organic fruit and vegetable farmer in Madera, Calif. "Things
have kind of been in a morass as far as enforcement for a number of
years, but now we're very hopeful that will change."
The optimism is based on U.S. Department of
Agriculture rules announced Feb. 12 that require livestock to be
grazed on pasture for at least four months a year to qualify for an
organic meat or dairy label. The animals also must get at least 30%
of their feed from grazing. Previous rules required only that
animals have "access to pasture."
Organic advocates also point to a USDA decision in August to
audit its National Organic Program because of self-admitted
problems with reliability and transparency. The program is made up
of 100 organic certifying organizations.
The audit, conducted by the Commerce Department, will be made
public and will include recommendations for improving
Any mass-marketed product that bills itself as "100% organic" or
"organic" is subject to USDA organic certification and bears the
Although products that carry the seal are produced on farms and
by manufacturers that already are subject to inspections by USDA's
organic certifiers, critics have argued the agency's definitions
are too broad and that some products are organic in name only. Many
believe the new meat and milk rules are proof the Obama
administration is willing to get tougher.
The USDA's recent moves have been praised by both smaller
farmers and industry groups, such as the Organic Trade Assn., which
represents many larger operations.
"The sharpening of standards is something that we've wanted ever
since, well, the organic laws came into existence," said Jim
Goodman, a 55-year-old organic dairy farmer from Hillsboro, Wis.
"The new standards actually define what organic cattle have to do,
and that's a huge step."