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New organic standards get RMFU nod

DENVER—Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) today applauded final National Organic Standards released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The regulations, which will standardize the “organic” definition on foods and other agricultural products bought by consumers, have been in process for nearly a decade.

“It is tremendous to finally have these standards and to have standards upon which consumers, the organic community and producers agree,” said RMFU President Dave Carter. “Production of organic food and fiber is in demand by consumers and a wonderful niche market option for family farmers and ranchers.”

RMFU has participated in the establishment of organic standards since the process began. RMFU testified at a Santa Fe, N.M., hearing in 1994 prior to the USDA’s issuance of the first proposed organic standards in 1997-98. The proposed standards so offended those in the organic community that USDA received 275,603 public comments. “The first set of organic standards reflected the interests of multinational food corporations, raising the ire of consumers and independent family producers of organic products,” Carter said. “As a result, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union held a series of meetings throughout the region to gather grassroots input on changes that should be made to the initial standards issued by USDA.”

The problems associated with the initial rule that have been rectified in the final rule include prohibition of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation and sewage sludge in production of organic foods. The rule also increases the minimum percentage of organic ingredients in products labeled “Made with Organic Ingredients” from 50 to 70 percent and requires manufacturers to use organic ingredients in “organic” products whenever possible. The final rule is compatible with European organic standards and also provides an accreditation process for foreign entities seeking organic certification for exports into the United States.

In making the announcement on the final organic standards, USDA Secretary Dan Glickman said, “These new standards are a win for both farmers and consumers. For farmers, the standards create clear guidelines for how to take advantage of the exploding demand for organic products. For consumers, the organic standards offer another choice in the marketplace.”

The final rule is particularly friendly to family-sized operations. In announcing the rule, USDA also announced implementation of a new cost-share program aimed at helping small producers in 15 states receive the organic certification required by the new standards. The new program would allow the government to pay whichever is higher, 70 percent of a producer’s certification costs or $500. In addition, handlers who sell less than $5,000 annually of organic agricultural products are exempt from certification but must comply with all national standards in order to label their products as “organic.”

The final rule becomes effective 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register and will be fully implemented 18 months after its effective date. At that time all products represented as organic must be in compliance with the new regulations.