Organic View - An e-mail publication of the Organic
Consumers Association
v. 1, n. 3

1. Organic Farmers Threatened by GE Crops
2. Report from Upper Midwest Organic Farmers Conference
3. Irradiation Comments Needed
4. Organic Answers: What is the National List?
5. Organic Facts - Latest Organic Farm Research


1. Organic Farmers Threatened by GE Crops

The naturally-occurring soil bacterium, Bacillus
thuringiensis (Bt), is used as a non-toxic
pesticide by at least 57 percent of organic farmers,
according to a recent survey (See Organic Facts for more on
the survey). Now, that natural pesticide is being threatened
by the growing influence of eight genetically-engineered Bt
crops including corn, cotton and potatoes.

Hailed as the perfect natural pesticide, Bt works by
attacking the digestive systems of
specific pests, killing the pests. Used sparingly as a spray
pesticide by organic farmers, Bt does not have detrimental
effects on mammals, birds or non-target insect species and
microorganisms. In addition, Bt sprays leave no poisonous
residue on crops or trees and are readily degraded into the

But this critical tool for organic farmers is being
threatened by the growing
commercialization of genetically-engineered Bt crops in the
US. These crops, which contain the Bt gene in each cell, are
being planted in fields across the country - Bt crops are
now on more than 19.3 million acres in the U.S. Monsanto,
Novartis, Pioneer, and AgrEvo all have transgenic Bt crops
on the market.

The threat from these GE Bt crops is that pests controlled
by Bt will become resistant to the transgenic varieties in a
relatively short time period - possibly as soon as two
years. As is the case with all pesticides, if insects are
exposed to continuous, massive doses (as they are in GE Bt),
they will develop resistance over time.

A central priority for organic farmers is to minimize all
potential for Bt resistance, by using Bt spray only as an
emergency pest control option. If insect resistance should
occur, Bt sprays would become ineffective.

“Organic farmers have used Bt responsibly for nearly 40
years,” says Jim Gerritsen, an
organic potato grower from Maine. “But genetically
engineered Bt crops will lead to insect resistance in just a
few years. My ability to provide consumers with quality,
organic produce should not be compromised for the short-term
benefit of the biotech industry.”

A major concern is the toxic trespass or drift of GE Bt
traits to non-genetically engineered plants - even organic
plants. Wisconsin organic food producer, Terra Prima, Inc.
was shocked recently when seven European countries said they
could not accept its organic tortilla chips. Despite using
strictly organic seeds, European regulatory authorities
found that Terra Prima’s organic corn in the chips had
tested positive as genetically-engineered corn. A victim of
cross pollination of GE Bt, the company lost over $100,000
and had to pull its product from European stores.

An additional environmental risk is the buildup of GE Bt
toxins in the soil, damaging the
food soil web and beneficial soil micro-organisms. In
addition, scientists warn that beneficial insects such as
ladybugs can be harmed by eating caterpillars that have
ingested GE Bt toxins.

In response to the danger GE Bt crops pose to organic
farmers, the Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit against
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in February. Other
petitioners included organic farmers in 21 states, the
International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements,
and numerous environmental groups, including Greenpeace.

The lawsuit charges that EPA violated the law and agency
regulations in approving
genetically altered Bt plants. The lawsuit demands that the
EPA: 1) Cancel the registration of all GE Bt plants; 2)
Cease the approval process for any new registrations; 3)
Immediately perform a programmatic environmental impact
assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act; 4)
And, should the registrations be upheld by the court, all Bt
corn, potatoes, and cottonseed oil should be labeled as a

To read more about the Center’s lawsuit, go to:
To support the Center’s lawsuit against Bt crops, write EPA
Administrator Carol Browner and ask her to adhere to the
above stated demands of the lawsuit. Cite US District Court
for DC Docket No. 99-CV-389. EPA Administrator Carol
Browner, 401 M Street, SW, Room W1200, Washington, DC 20460

2. Report from Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference -
OCA Field Organizer,
Debbie Ortman

What a successful, inspiration and educational 3-day
conference! Over 1,000 organic
farmers, consumers and activists attended the 10th Annual
Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference held in Sinsinawa,

"The last frontier is under our feet," Elizabeth Hendrickson
of New York told conference
attendees. As one of the keynote speakers, Elizabeth is an
organic farmer, runs a CSA, is a board member of National
Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, and has been active at
the national level fighting for a strong organic standard.
This quote was a great way to start off a conference that
had over 90 speakers on every topic imaginable from
composting-irradiated food-rural women farmers-starting a
activism-beekeeping-soil health and more. Other notable
speakers included: Michael
Abelman, John Ikerd and Annie Kirschenmann.

One of the sessions was a panel discussion on the USDA's
National Organic Standards with Roger Blobaum, International
Organic Accreditation Service; Jim Riddle, Independent
Organic Inspectors Association; Cissy Bowman, Organic
Farmers Marketing Association; and Bill Welsh of the NOSB.
Both Roger and Jim said they do not believe the USDA will or
can deliver on their promise that the second round will
contain all of the 1996 recommendations from the National
Organic Standards Board.

To get on the mailing list for next year’s conference,
contact: Faye Jones, or 715-772-3153.

3. Irradiation Comments Needed

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in February
that it seeking comments on whether to change or diminish
the label for irradiated food. Proposed alternative labels
would use terms such as "cold pasteurization" and
"electronic pasteurization," instead of irradiation.

The FDA’s move does not apply to organic food - as organic
food is not irradiated. Nor has the issue reached the stage
of a “proposed rule.” But the move does signal the agency’s
growing commitment to irradiation and is the beginning stage
of changing the current label to make it more difficult for
consumers to identify irradiated food.

Currently, irradiated meat and produce must be labeled with
a prominent symbol and
statement indicating that the product had been irradiated.
In the food irradiation process, the food is passed through
a chamber containing radioactive cobalt-60, electron beams
or X-rays that bombard the food and kill bacteria, insects
and mold.

But irradiation also destroys vitamins. Even at low doses,
some irradiated foods lose 20% of vitamins such as C, E, K,
and B complex. Because irradiation breaks down cell walls,
irradiated foods which are stored for long periods may lose
70-80% of their vitamin content.

And it is unclear what effect eating irradiated food will
have on humans. Studies on animals fed irradiated foods have
shown increased tumors, reproductive failures and kidney
damage. Chromosomal abnormalities occurred in children from
India who were fed irradiated wheat.

Despite irradiation’s hazards and drawbacks, it is being
aggressively pushed by an embattled meat industry looking
for cover in the wake of numerous recent food-borne illness
outbreaks, particularly E coli and listeria. At the same
time, the industry has vigorously opposed efforts to clean
up filthy slaughter houses, slow down meat production
processing lines, stop the feeding of antibiotics and
rendered animal protein to livestock, and increase the
number of federal meat inspectors - all more productive
measures to reduce food borne-illnesses.

And it is the food industry leaders that are pushing the FDA
to change or eliminate the
irradiation label. "[w]e as a scientific organization don't
see the rationale for it to be on the label," Dane Bernard,
a vice president of the National Food Processors Association
told Reuters.

While irradiation has been approved for years for produce,
spices, and poultry (and in
February for red meat), none of the major food companies
have stepped forward to market irradiated products. And only
a few small retailers offer irradiated foods. Installation
of equipment to treat red meat is expected to cost
individual companies about $10 million, and irradiated meat
is expected to cost about 5 cents more a pound. Another
problem with irradiated food is that it tastes and smells
different, especially ground beef patties that are the most
likely form of meat to be irradiated. Additionally, the
color of the raw irradiated beef is darker than non-treated

The FDA is seeking comments by May 18 on two questions: "1)
Whether the wording of the current radiation disclosure
statement should be revised, and 2) whether such labeling
requirements should expire at a specified date in the
future." The complete proposal can be viewed at:

While the agency is seeking comments from everyone, it is
particularly important for stores and retail outlets, as
well as organizations, to submit comments. If you have any
expertise or personal status that bears on the issue (e.g.,
you are a physician, scientist, chef, farmer, food
manufacturer, parent), state it in your comment.

Send a comment to the FDA demanding prominent labeling, and
retaining the current
terminology of “treated with radiation” or “treated by
irradiation,” and the use of the radura symbol. The
statement and symbol should be easy to read and placed in
close proximity to the name of the food. Tell the FDA you
feel proposed alternative terms such as "cold
pasteurization" and "electronic pasteurization" are
misleading and should not be used. Finally, tell them that
the requirement for irradiation disclosure (both label and
radura) should not expire at any time in the future.

Send comments before May 18, 1999 to:
Dockets Management Branch (HFA-305)
Food and Drug Administration
5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061
Rockville, MD 20852.
Refer to Docket #98N-1038

If you choose to e-mail your comments, be sure to include
the docket # in the subject of the e-mail. Send e-mail to
Please cc your e-mail comments to us at:

4. Organic Answers - What is the National List?

As the USDA works to finalize a national organic rule, an
issue sure to be a source of
controversy involves the contents of what is called “the
National List of Materials for
Organic Processing.” Under the Organic Food Productions Act
(OFPA) of 1990, the
National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is responsible for
compiling the so-called List of allowable synthetic
substances for use in organic production. The NOSB utilizes
the technical assistance of the USDA’s Technical Advisory
Panel. The List is then forwarded to the USDA, which can
take NOSB recommended synthetic substances off the list, but
cannot add to the list.

Although the power to control the List was threatened by
last year’s proposed organic rule, the USDA’s National
Organic Program head, Keith Jones, reiterated to the NOSB at
their February 1999 meeting that the next organic rule will
re-affirm NOSB’s role in determining the National List

The List is composed of allowable organic agricultural
production inputs - in other words, what organic farmers can
use in producing organic food. Many organic farmers use
fertilizer and various non-toxic pesticides. For these
products to be allowed in organic farming, they must not
contain any ingredients - including some so-called “inert
ingredients” - which may be toxic and not consistent with
organic agriculture.
A source of debate is whether the National List should
include certain allowable synthetic processing materials -
used in the ever-growing market of processed organic food.
The demand for processed organic commodities has grown
dramatically, and many of the larger companies now producing
organic products see processed organic food as having the
greatest growth and profit potential.

The problem, however, is that the OFPA does not allow for
any use of synthetic materials in processing organic food.
Regardless, the NOSB is pushing forward in developing a List
of certain synthetic materials that will be allowable in
processed foods labeled as organic. The NOSB’s current
recommendation is that certain reviewed and approved
synthetic materials can be used as processing aids or
adjuvants but not actual ingredients in organic processed
foods. The difference between the categories is that all
ingredients must be identified on the label, while
processing aids and adjuvants do not have to be labeled.

This issue is much in dispute within the NOSB. At their
February meeting, the Board barely passed (by a vote of 6 to
5, with one abstention) a vote to allow synthetic materials
at all in organic foods. The split lay primarily between the
wholesale/retail communities (processors, distributors,
health food stores), and those who represent a consumers’

Synthetic substances could include pesticides,
preservatives, genetically engineered
substances and products derived from genetic engineering -
all of which are inconsistent with what consumers expect and
demand from organic food.

5. Organic Facts - Latest Organic Farm Research

Every year for the last three years, the Organic Farm
Research Foundation has surveyed
American organic farmers. The latest survey of over 1,200
organic farmers found that over 77% plan to increase their
organic acreage and the number of crops they grow
organically. Respondents indicated a lack of faith in the
USDA’s ability to publish a strong organic rule and added
that the Department currently fails to provide them with
useful information or support. The survey found that organic
farmers are family farmers -- 87% of the respondents are
single family operations or family partnerships. Other
findings include:

* Average farm size is 140 acres.
* 57% are organic vegetable, flower and ornamental crop
* 40% are organic fruit, nut and tree crop producers.
* 52% produce organic field crops.
* 27% produce livestock or livestock products organically.

The Executive Summary of the survey is available on the OFRF
web site: