Organic View - An e-mail publication of the Organic
Consumers Association

The Organic Consumers Association is affiliated with the
Campaign for Food Safety
v. 1 n. 7 (June 1999)

1. Organic Community Introduces Own National Standards
Food Bills Protect Consumers
New Hampshire Takes On "Terminator"
Bt Action Alert
European Commissioner Supports Organic


1. Organic Community Introduces Own National Standards

The Organic Food Production Act (OFPA), passed in 1990,
requires that the USDA develop national standards for
organic food. It took the USDA seven years to issue its
first proposed national organic rule. And after sharp
criticism, and many promises later, the USDA is still
working on the next proposed rule - expected to appear
sometime this fall.

Tired of waiting for the USDA, the Organic Trade Association
has introduced its own draft of national rules called the
"American Organic Standards." The American Organic Standards
(AOS) project is designed to update OTA's organic industry
guidelines and to build consensus in preparation for the
release of federal organic regulations.

OCA's initial review of the AOS indicates that they are very
strong, based largely on recommendations from the National
Organic Standards Board (NOSB) - a 15-member,
non-governmental, federal advisory committee made up of
organic farmers, organic food companies, environmentalists,
consumer groups, and scientific experts.

The American Organic Standards do not address several key
issues including enforcement language concerning penalties
for organic fraud. The AOS also does not address the
complicated issue of genetic engineering residue levels. The
AOS has strong language prohibiting the use of genetic
engineering in organic production. However, the issue of
setting tolerance levels in response to the growing
instances of "genetic drift" is something the organic
industry is grappling with. As more genetically engineered
crops are planted around the country, the potential for
genetic drift to organic farms increases. Already, an
organic corn farmer in Texas has had his field contaminated
with genetically engineered material. Currently, there is
zero tolerance for genetically engineered residues

The AOS second draft is slated to go through a comment
period in August, and the American Organic Standards project
will be completed by the end of October. The OTA urges
growers, manufacturers, brokers, distributors, certifiers,
inspectors, retailers and others who produce, handle or sell
organic products, as well as environmental, public interest
and consumer groups to read the standards and submit
comments. The 120-page rules can be viewed at the OTA's

2. Food Bills Protect Consumers

At the federal, state, and local level there have been
several new bills and initiatives introduced that are
designed to give consumers more information about the food
they are buying, including efforts to label genetically
engineered food, food grown on top of sewage sludge, and the
country where the food was grown. Below is a short summary
of these important legislative efforts.

* In Webster Groves, Missouri members of the Gateway Green
Alliance recently filed a legal action in Circuit Court to
force the City Council to place the issue of labeling
genetically engineered foods before the voters. After the
City Council refused to consider the issue last fall,
Gateway Green Alliance members gathered 480 initiative
petition signatures - enough to get the issue on the ballot
for voters to consider directly. However, the City Council
claims that it is a "non-local" issue, and thus the
initiative is not proper. Biotech leader Monsanto is based
in nearby St. Louis and has had representatives at City
Council meetings. The initiative is largely symbolic,
stating that the City supports state or federal legislation
that would require labeling for genetically engineered food.

* A bill in the state of New York would require labels on
dairy products from cows injected with the recombinant
Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). BGH is a genetically
engineered hormone that is injected into cows to increase
milk production by as much as 15 percent. Approved by the
Food and Drug Administration in 1993, recent studies have
indicated that milk from cows injected with BGH might
increase risks of breast and prostate cancer in humans.
Canada recently rejected approval of BGH based on its
inhumane treatment of cows, including increased udder
infections. (See Organic View n.2 -
/old_articles/new.stm#BGH) The European
Union, which has also banned the drug, recently issued a
report concluding that there are "direct risks associated
with the use of (BGH) in dairy cows." Efforts to get the
legislation passed are being lead by New York PIRG and New
York State Greens.

* Earlier this year, Maine introduced the first state bill
to require the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The
bill was approved by a majority vote in the Agriculture
Committee, but failed in the joint General Assembly by a
vote of 49 to 95. A similar bill was defeated in Maine two
years ago. The bill would have required the labeling of
whole foods that are genetically engineered - including
corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and sweet corn. It also
would have allowed voluntary labeling for foods that are
genetically engineered free. The Maine legislation was
vigorously opposed by food processors, supermarkets and the
biotech industry. Food distributors threatened not to send
any of the whole foods in question to Maine, rather than
separate and label genetically engineered varieties.

* U.S. Congressman Jose Serrano (D-NY) has introduced a bill
that would label food products grown on sewage sludge - H.R.
261. The bill would amend the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act
and the egg, meat, and poultry inspection laws to ensure
that consumers are informed when food is produced from
crops, livestock, or poultry raised on land where sewage
sludge was applied. Sewage sludge used in agriculture is
composed of materials discharged from sewage treatment
plants consisting of residential, industrial, hospital
wastes, runoff from streets and farmlands, and in some cases
landfill leachates including Superfund sites. These wastes
contain varying degrees of pathogens, heavy metals, man-made
organic chemicals such as PCBs, dioxins, pharmaceuticals,
industrial solvents, detergents, asbestos, and radioactive

* Congresswoman Mary Bono (R-CA) has introduced a bill,
Produce Consumers' Right-to-Know Act, which would require
produce to be labeled for its country of origin. Another
companion piece of legislation, HR 1144, would apply only to
meat - but also require a "country of origin" label. Even
those not buying organic may desire imported fresh fruits
and vegetables due to seasonal preferences, or wish to avoid
products due to a country's heavy use of toxic pesticides or
poor labor policies. Additionally, both pieces of
legislation will help consumers avoid foods identified as
dangerous by government agencies. For example, when the
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued an advisory
regarding Guatemalan raspberries, consumers had no way of
identifying which berries to buy or avoid.

3. New Hampshire Takes On "Terminator"

A bill of particular importance is being considered by the
New Hampshire state legislature. The bill would ban the use
of genetically engineered crops that utilize the so-called
"Terminator" technology. The Terminator technology makes
plants produce sterile seeds, ensuring that farmers buy new
seeds every year rather than collect, replant and share

Under the legislation now under consideration by the Senate
Environment Committee, an individual caught growing or
selling terminator seeds in the state would be subject to a
fine of up to $1,000. A company would be charged with a
felony and face fines between $20,000 and $100,000. The New
Hampshire House passed an earlier form of the bill that
called for study committee to examine the potential
ecological threats posed by "Terminator" crops. There is
concern that sterility traits could flow through pollen to
plants surrounding the Terminator crops, rendering them
sterile as well - posing a direct threat to surrounding
farmers, particularly organic farmers. Before the bill went
to the Senate, New Hampshire Representative Mary Rabideau
tagged on an amendment to ban "Terminator" technology in the
state. If passed by the New Hampshire Senate the bill will
go to conference committee.

The Terminator technology was developed by the US Department
of Agriculture and Delta & Pine Land, which is currently
being acquired by Monsanto. In the face of worldwide
criticism of the Terminator technology, Monsanto recently
announced that it was slowing the commercial development of
the highly controversial seed technology and is at least
five years away from making a decision about how it will be
used. Monsanto is the world's largest seller of genetically
modified seed, and has been aggressively taking legal action
against farmers for what the company calls "seed piracy."

The Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI)
recently announced that Monsanto is engaging in behind the
scenes negotiations with the USDA to gain exclusive patent
rights to the terminator technology from the USDA. Under US
law, since Delta & Pine Land worked with USDA to develop the
technology, the company has the option to negotiate an
exclusive license.

A special WWW page has been set up at
( to make it easy to send a
customized message to the USDA asking it to cease
negotiations with Monsanto and bury this anti-farmer,
anti-biodiversity technology.

4. Bt Action Alert

Last month, Cornell University researchers reported that
pollen from genetically engineered insect-resistant Bt corn
is toxic to monarch butterflies. The study found that nearly
half the monarch caterpillars eating Bt-corn pollen died
after four days while all the caterpillars fed normal corn
pollen survived. Even the ones that survived were affected -
their growth was stunted. (Organic View, n 3 outlined the
threat genetically engineered Bt poses to organic farmers.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists
(, if the laboratory results hold in the
field, then monarch caterpillars, and perhaps many other
moth and butterfly caterpillars, including endangered ones,
may be at risk from Bt corn. Each year, about half the
monarch population migrates through the US Corn Belt just as
millions of acres of Bt corn are shedding pollen. For the
scientific assessment that led to the approval of Bt corn,
the EPA did not require companies to test the effect of the
pollen on monarchs or any other nonpest butterflies or

OCA joins the Union of Concerned Scientists is asking
consumers to: Write Carol Browner, the EPA Administrator,
Environmental Protection Agency (Mail code 1101), 401 M St.,
SW, Washington, DC 20460; Fax: 202-260-0279.

Tell Browner to:

* Deny any further approvals and renewals of Bt corn until
it has a program in place to protect the monarch butterfly
and prevent other adverse ecological effects.

* Begin consultations with the Department of Interior about
the potential dangers of toxic Bt-corn pollen to endangered
or threatened butterflies and moths.

* Convene a panel of ecologists to begin developing a
program that will detect and protect against the ecological
risks of engineered crops.

* The loss of monarchs is too high a price to pay for
engineered corn.

5. European Commissioner Supports Organic

The European Union's acting environment commissioner, Ritt
Bjerregaard, has called for setting higher targets for
organic farming to reduce the impact of agriculture on the
environment. Addressing a gathering of farmers, traders and
non-governmental organizations, Ms Bjerregaard said a "good
start" towards her "personal vision" of a farming future
without chemicals, which "pollute the soil, the water and
the food chain" would be to triple the area of land farmed
organically by 2005. Currently 2% of the EU's agricultural
area is cultivated without the use of chemical pesticides
and fertilizers.

Bjerregaard said that the organic area could be increased to
as much as 25% by 2010 if the right measures were
introduced. Steps taken to support the expansion of organic
farming so far, such as the establishment of a standard for
production methods, were "piecemeal" and "insufficient," she
said. To avoid hampering the development of the organic
sector, incentives were needed for farmers to convert to
organic production, the market structure of the sector had
to be strengthened and the quality of produce needed to be
improved, she said.