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

v. 1 n. 4
1. Earth Day and OCA
2. Label Genetically Engineered Food!
3. Antibiotic Resistance
4. Organic Answers - What is “Certified Organic”?
5. Organic Facts

1. Earth Day and the OCA

To many, Earth Day has lost its edge. Instead of celebrating
and promoting citizen action to protect the earth, it has
become an advertising opportunity for corporate polluters to
tout their latest greenwashing project. Help us return Earth
Day to what it was intended to be - a day when people take
actions - small and large - to protect the earth.

This year, OCA will be working with over 120 natural and
organic food stores and co-ops around the country to inform
consumers on how they can get active on organic food issues.
OCA volunteers will be tabling at participating stores with
information on how people can comment to the FDA regarding
the labeling of irradiation (See last issue of Organic
View), the labeling of genetically-engineered food (See
below story), and become a member of the Organic Consumers

If you are interested in working with OCA’s volunteer
network, and would like to table at a store in your area -
e-mail our field organizer Debbie Ortman at:
( or give us a call at:

If your Earth Day activist bent is more inclined toward
hellraising, you may want to get
involved in the Global Days of Action - a series of actions
around the world focused on
raising public awareness about genetically engineered food.
Actions will take place in a
number of cities and communities around the US - including
St. Louis, Seattle, Boston,
Cleveland, San Francisco, and Burlington, and dozens of
countries - including Great Britain, France, Canada, India,
Japan and Malaysia. Details of Global Days of Action can be
found in the next issue of CFS News, or at the Campaign for
Food Safety website (

2. Label Genetically Engineered Foods!

Since 1993, the U.S. government has allowed 36 biotech foods
and crops onto the market, with absolutely no labeling or
special pre-market safety testing required. Some are whole
foods, and many are included as ingredients in processed
food. They are all unlabeled. And right now, the only way to
ensure you aren’t eating genetically engineered food is to
buy organic.

There are several important efforts in the US to give
consumers better information about
what they are buying and eating. And just as importantly,
require extensive safety testing of these genetically
engineered crops before they enter the market.

In May of last year, attorneys at the Center for Food Safety
filed a comprehensive lawsuit on behalf of consumers,
scientists, environmentalists, chefs, and religious groups
to force the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require
mandatory labeling and adequate safety testing of all
genetically engineered foods and crops.

"The FDA has placed the interests of a handful of
biotechnology companies ahead of their responsibility to
protect public health," stated Andrew Kimbrell, Executive
Director of the CFS, and co-counsel on the case. "By failing
to require testing and labeling of genetically engineered
foods, the agency has made consumers unknowing guinea pigs
for potentially harmful, unregulated food substances."

The CFS charges that current FDA and USDA labeling policies
not only ignore public
surveys that show 90% of American consumers want mandatory
labeling of genetically
engineered foods, but also blatantly contradict federal
laws, such as the Food, Drug, and
Cosmetic Act, which mandate the labeling of "materially
altered" foods such as those
which have been subjected to nuclear irradiation. In
addition, the CFS lawsuit calls attention to the fact that
current "no labeling" policies constitute a violation of
many Americans' spiritual and religious beliefs.

The biotech industry has vigorously fought against any
attempts at labeling genetically
engineered food. Just as mandatory labeling has hurt the
commercialization of irradiated
food in the United States, biotech labeling would almost
certainly radically reduce the
profitability of gene foods or even drive controversial
products such as rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone),
Roundup Ready Soybeans, and Bt-spliced corn and potatoes
from the marketplace. As the head of Asgrow seed company (a
Monsanto subsidiary) candidly admitted to the press several
years ago: "Labeling is the key issue. If you put a label on
genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull
and crossbones on it."

To support CFS’s lawsuit, write the Food and Drug
Administration at: Jane Henney
Commissioner, F.D.A., 5600 Fishers Lane, Room 1471,
Rockville, MD 20857
Cite (U.S. District Court for D.C. Docket No. 98-CV-1300

For more information about the lawsuit, go to:
Information on other efforts to fight genetically engineered
foods will be in upcoming issues of Organic View.

3. Antibiotic Resistance

Health professionals are alarmed at the development of
several new infections which have developed a resistance to
antibiotics. Drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis,
gonorrhea and pneumocococcal infections have become
frighteningly common in recent years. And a growing number
of germs are developing resistance to the antibiotic of last
resort, vancomycin.

Bacteria naturally evolve to avoid antibiotics. But
resistance has speeded up in the last
decade, largely because they are being over-used. Public
health officials speculate that 60 million unnecessary
prescriptions are written each year for childhood viral
infections that do not respond to antibiotics.

But another important concern is the heavy use of
antibiotics in livestock feed. For more
than 40 years, ranchers and growers have been feeding low
levels of penicillin, tetracycline, and other antibiotics to
poultry, cattle, and pigs to speed the animals’ growth and
cut costs. Of the 50 million pounds of antibiotics produced
every year in the U.S., estimates are that about 40 percent
is given to animals. Unless the meat, eggs and dairy
products you buy at your local supermarket are labeled
“organic,” you can be fairly certain the animal your food
came from was fed an abundance of antibiotics.

The mass use of antibiotics in animal feed has sped up the
development of antibiotic resistant bacteria in animals,
according to many scientists. These mutant strains of
bacteria, such as E-coli 0157, can infect humans who handle
raw meat and poultry, or eat undercooked food.

Last year, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that
salmonella bacteria in food were resistant to five of
medicine's strongest antibiotics. And this spring, the New
England Journal of Medicine will publish a study by
Minnesota health researchers which finds that the incidence
of bacteria resistant to the newest and strongest available
antibiotic, called fluoroquinolones, increased from 1.3% to
10.2% since 1992. Scientists from the University of Maryland
recently reported in the British medical journal Lancet,
that bacteria resistant to the most powerful antibiotics
used to treat infections in people have been found in
chicken feed.

Last year, the European Union banned the use of antibiotic
growth promoters in livestock if those same antibiotics are
used to treat disease in humans. In the past two years, the
World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention have called for ending the use of
several antibiotics for growth promotion in livestock.

In March, a coalition of 41 health and consumer groups led
by the Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a
petition and called on the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) to pass an EU-type ban in the U.S. For more
information on CSPI’s petition and what you can do, go to
CSPI’s website at:

In a separate action, the Humane Society sued the FDA
earlier this month to stop farmers from using antibiotics to
fatten up farm animals. The lawsuit, with legal help from
the Center for Food Safety, charges that by letting farmers
use antibiotics to promote growth, it is contributing to
problems of “superbug” bacteria which are infecting animals
and humans. For more information on the Humane Society
lawsuit go to:

4. Organic Answers - What is “Certified Organic”?

One of the central goals in fighting the USDA’s first
proposed rule on organic food was to maintain the integrity
of “organic.” But exactly what is the current system that
ensures the integrity of organic food? Who is making sure
that the food is organic? And what is the difference between
the different organic labels?

Currently, organic farm and production facilities are
certified by over 40 different organic
certification agencies nation-wide. Eleven of the
certification programs are state-run, while approximately 30
are private or non-governmental certification agencies. The
precise specifications for qualifying as organic vary
slightly among the different certification agencies -
however, they are nearly all currently at a high standard
that consumers can trust. Food is certified organic only
when the certification agency is satisfied that the farm is
meeting its standards for organic food production - ie, not
using toxic pesticides, genetically-engineered crops or
inputs, hormones, antibiotics etc. If food doesn’t say
“certified organic” - then it has not been officially
approved by these organic certification bodies. However,
thousands of small farmers in the US do produce genuine
organic products, even if they can't afford to pay
certification fees.

The state and non-governmental certification system was
considered imperfect ten years ago by some in the organic
industry. The large number of different certification bodies
was the impetus for the 1990 Organic Food Production Act
(OFPA). The thinking was that different certification bodies
with different labels was becoming confusing for consumers,
and becoming a barrier to growth for the organic industry. A
uniform federal standard would simplify things, and ensure
quality, or so the argument went.

But as the sticky process of creating national organic rules
has evolved, a rift has developed between the current
certifiers and the federal government. The role of the
USDA’s National Organic Program in accrediting certifiers,
various fees certifiers might have to pay, and the
enforcement powers of the certifiers, are all issues yet to
be finalized. A particular point of contention is who will
have the power to de-certify a farm or facility if they are
doing something wrong. Currently, each of the 40 plus
certifiers can pull the certification of that facility. The
USDA has argued that pulling a facility’s certification is
the exclusive right of the government. Both sides are
working on a compromise, but this issue continues to be a
point of contention for certifiers.

As organic food becomes more popular around the world (See
next story), there is a move to get countries to comply with
international organic standards. The International
Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM - has been around 20 years
and is devoted to establishing international organic
standards. IFOAM has more than 600 members in 95 countries
around the world.

A number of respected US certifiers have already moved
toward IFOAM certification.
IFOAM now has a distinct labeling seal program for
accredited certifiers, and consumers should expect to see
the internationally-recognized IFOAM seal more and more in
the coming years. In the U.S., the following programs have
been approved by IFOAM: Farm Verified Organic (FVO), Oregon
Tilth, the Organic Growers and Buyers Association (OGBA) and
the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Many in the
U.S. believe it would benefit organics if the larger US
organic community can agree on one set of organic standards
acceptable to IFOAM. It would also likely diminish the role
and need for a USDA organic standard.

Contact information on U.S. organic certifiers can be found
on the Organic Farmers
Marketing Association webpage. For Private Organic
Certifiers -; for State Organic
Certifiers -

E-mail us at: - for issues
you would like to see
discussed in “Organic Answers.”

5. Organic Facts

According to a new report from the United Nations’ Food and
Agriculture Organization
(FAO), consumer demand for organically produced food is on
the rise and provides new
market opportunities for farmers around the world. The
report found that organic exports from developing countries
are sold at impressive premiums, often at prices 20% higher
than identical products produced on conventional farms.

The report found that in several developed countries,
organic agriculture already represents a significant portion
of the food system: 10% in Austria and 7.8% in Switzerland.
Other countries such as the U.S., France, Japan and
Singapore are experiencing growth rates in the organic
industry that exceed 20% annually.

The FAO report, "Organic Agriculture" is available on the
web at