Organic View #16 - An e-mail publication of the Organic Consumers Association

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v.1 n.16 October 29, 1999

1. National Organic Standards Board Told To Address Drift
2. Alternative Organic Standards Approved
3. Genetic Engineering A Hot Topic at Organic Expo
4. FDA to Hold Public Hearings on GE Foods
5. MN Unveils Innovative Organic Program
6. Farm Coalition Speaks Out Against GE Crops
7. Recent News

1. National Organic Standards Board Told To Address Drift

Representatives from the National Campaign for Sustainable
Agriculture (NCSS) told the National Organic Standards Board
(NOSB) earlier this week to address several threats that
genetic engineering poses to organic food production.

The NOSB, established as part of the Organic Foods
Production Act of 1990, is set up to make recommendations to
the US Department of Agriculture in establishing national
standards for organic food. The NOSB is composed of organic
producers, farmers, certifiers, and environmental and
consumer representatives.

Speaking on behalf of NCSS, Michael Sligh, of Rural
Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), urged the NOSB
to not let complications delay the Board in addressing
immediate threats to organic farming from the drift of
genetically engineered material. Additionally, the NOSB
should encourage the USDA to seek remedies that do not place
the burden of proof or liability on organic farmers for
genetic contamination. Instead, the USDA should follow the
"polluter pays" principle. And, the USDA should immediately
begin tracking genetically engineered crops by location, and
have that information published regularly so that organic
farmers can gauge the risk of genetic drift to their farms.

NCSS also recommended that the NOSB pass resolutions
endorsing social/economic equity in reference to workers,
and in support of biodiversity. Finally, NCSS encouraged the
USDA to establish a simple, cost-effective, cost-share
program for organic farmers to offset the costs of
certification and encourage the participation of more
farmers (See more about Minnesota's cost share program later
in this issue)

To send comments to the National Organic Standards Board
concerning the issues mentioned above, go to:

2. Alternative Organic Standards Approved

The USDA is on schedule to release their next round of
proposed national organic standards for public comment
sometime in January. In the meantime, the Board of the
Organic Trade Association unanimously approved an
alternative set of organic standards last week that would
set a baseboard for organic certification in the US.

Currently, 40 different state and private certification
agencies ensure that organic food follows a strict set of
standards. While all of the standards are strong, and should
inspire consumer confidence, each varies slightly. The
USDA's national organic rules would set one standard for the
entire US.

The OTA's American Organic Standards (AOS) were developed in
response to the USDA's disastrous first proposed national
organic rules, which included loopholes to allow genetic
engineering, irradiation, and sewage sludge in organic
farming. The AOS standards offer an alternative if the
USDA's next proposed rules are not up to current strong
standards. Additionally, the AOS standards could be
implemented immediately, an important advantage given the
USDA's glacial pace at developing national standards -
already 10 years in the making.

The AOS is based on NOSB recommendations, state and private
organic certification laws and international standards, such
as those from the International Federation of Organic
Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). The AOS process began
approximately six months ago, and OTA has posted two drafts
with public comments on their website. The AOS is still open
to additional public comment during its 18-month
implementation period.

Thus far, the AOS have not addressed a number of important
issues to organic farming including extended buffer zones
and testing protocols related to genetically engineered
organisms, aquaculture, fiber standards and
retailer/distributor guidelines.

Additional information about the American Organic Standards
can be found at:

3. Genetic Engineering A Hot Topic at Organic Expo

Keeping genetic engineering out of organic food products was
the hot topic at the National Products Expo East held last
weekend in Baltimore. Several OCA staff attended the large
organic trade conference and talked with numerous co-op
managers and organic food producers.

Based on conversations, it was clear that genetically
engineered foods and crops are causing several problems for
organic producers, particularly for organic processed food.
Genetic drift poses a direct threat to organic food
production. The organic chip maker Terra Prima had to recall
its corn chips from Europe after genetically engineered
material had contaminated their organic corn source in

Of equal concern is the difficulty in ensuring that
non-organic ingredients such as lecithin, cottonseed oil,
soy oil and canola oil, are GE-free. Corn, soybeans, cotton
and canola are the most common genetically engineered crops.
Engineered crops are unlabeled and mixed with other
conventional crops. This poses a difficult challenge for
organic producers.

In a talk on genetic engineering before conference
participants, OCA Campaign Director Ronnie Cummins
encouraged organic and natural food companies to research
their sources for ingredients and get written affidavits
that those ingredients are not genetically engineered.

Genetically engineered ingredients are prohibited in
certified organic food. However, certified organic processed
food can contain a small percentage of conventional
ingredients - ingredients difficult to find as organic.
Because genetically engineered foods and crops are
unlabeled, and thus far have been mixed together with
conventional crops, it is impossible to know whether
conventional crops or ingredients contain genetically
engineered material without expensive testing.

4. FDA To Hold Public Hearings on GE Foods

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will hold three
public hearings in the next three months to explain the
agency's approval process for genetically engineered foods.
The unusual public meetings will be held in Chicago
(November 18), Washington, DC (November 30) and Oakland
(December 13).

The FDA regulates the safety of new foods entering the
market and decides whether additional labeling is required.
In 1992, the FDA issued a controversial policy determining
that genetically engineered foods are "substantially
equivalent" to conventional foods, and thus do not have to
be labeled or safety tested prior to entering the

At the meetings, an FDA panel will explain the agency's
process and rules, then listen to public comments. The FDA's
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition is considering
unorthodox labels, such as including additional information
about food ingredients on the web. The National Food
Processors Association is pushing for brochures, special
displays or toll-free numbers as an option to labeling. But
any label that is not prominently displayed on the product
is not acceptable for consumers.

The FDA is anxious to ease public fears of genetically
engineered foods and avoid a large public outcry similar to
what has happened in Europe. Health and Human Services
Secretary Donna Shalala told Reuters, "Although people have
enthusiastically accepted new drugs made from biotechnology,
some consumers have concerns about the use of this
technology in foods." Shalala is the former chancellor for
the University of Wisconsin where she was a staunch
supporter of research into the genetically engineered
recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH).

Below are details on the FDA public hearings. OCA will be
working with a broad coalition of organizations to ensure
there is high attendance at each meeting. If you are
interested in attending, please contact our Field Director,
Debbie Ortman, for additional information:

Thursday, November 18, 1999, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., One
Prudential Plaza, Plaza Club, 40th floor,130 East Randolph
St., Chicago, IL 60601. For information about and
registration for the public meeting in Chicago, IL: Darlene
Bailey, Chicago District (HFR-CE 645), Food and Drug
Administration, 300 S. Riverside Plaza, Suite 550-South,
Chicago, IL 60606, 312-353-7126,
FAX 312-886-3280, e-mail WASHINGTON, DC

Tuesday, November 30, 1999, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Washington,
DC, Grand Hyatt Washington, 1000 H St. NW., Washington, DC
20001. For information about and registration for the public
meeting in Washington, DC: Patricia Alexander, Office of
Consumer Affairs (HFE-40), Food and Drug Administration,
Rockville, MD 20857, 301-827-5006, FAX 301-827-3052, e-mail

Monday, December 13, 1999, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Oakland,
California. Elihu Harris State Office Building, 1515 Clay
St., Oakland, CA 94612. For information about and
registration for the public meeting in Oakland, CA: Janet
McDonald, San Francisco District (HFR-PA100), Food and Drug
Administration, 1431 Harbor Bay Pkwy., Alameda, CA
94502-7070, 510-337-6845,
FAX 510-337-6708, e-mail

5. MN Unveils Innovative Organic Program

Earlier this month the state of Minnesota began its new
organic agriculture cost-sharing program designed to help
reimburse farmers for the cost of organic inspection and
certification. The program was mandated through the Organic
Agriculture Promotion and Education Act passed earlier this
summer by the Minnesota Legislature. The cost share program
is the first of its kind in the country.

Available through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture,
the program will reimburse Minnesota organic producers for
up to two-thirds of the cost for organic inspection and
certification. Producers will be eligible for up to five
years of payments, with a maximum annual payment of $200 per

OCA's Debbie Ortman was appointed by the Governor to be part
of an Organic Advisory Task Force which includes organic
farmers, certifiers, a food retailer, state
university/extension representatives, and non-profit
organizations representatives. The OATF will review
certifiers who want to operate in Minnesota and advise the
Commissioner of Agriculture on the National Organic
Standards and other organic issues.

Most states have been relatively passive in assisting and
promoting organic agriculture. The Minnesota legislation
offers a great model for other states to follow as a
preliminary first step in supporting organic agriculture.

For more information, contact the Organic Program of the
Minnesota Department of Agriculture; Prescott Bergh, MDA
Organic Program Director, at 90 West Plato Blvd., St. Paul
MN, 55107. 651-215-0367, or by e-mail at

6. Farm Coalition Speaks Out Against Genetically Engineered Crops

In a further sign that farmers recognize the economic and
environmental risks associated with biotech crops, the
National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) issued a statement
earlier this month calling for an immediate moratorium on
genetically engineered crops. Below is the first paragraph
of NFFC's statement.

"Genetic engineering in agriculture has significantly
increased the economic uncertainty of family farmers
throughout the U.S. and the world. American farmers have
lost critical markets which are closed to genetically
engineered products. Corporate control of the seed supply
threatens farmers' independence. The risk of genetic drift
has made it difficult and expensive for farmers to market a
pure product. Genetic engineering has created social and
economic disruption that threatens traditional agricultural
practices for farmers around the world. Farmers, who have
maintained the consumer's trust by producing safe,
reasonably priced and nutritious food, now fear losing that
trust as a result of consumer rejection of genetically
engineered foods. Many scientists believe genetically
engineered organisms have been released into the environment
and the food supply without adequate testing. Farmers who
have used this new technology may be facing massive
liability from damage caused by genetic drift, increased
weed and pest resistance, and the destruction of wildlife
and beneficial insects."

The NFFC statement made a number of demands including: a
suspension of sales of genetically engineered seeds and
agricultural products until further testing is done; a ban
on the patenting of seeds, plants, animals, genes and cell
lines; that corporate agribusiness be held liable for
damages resulting from genetically engineered crops and
livestock; enforcement of all state and federal anti-trust,
market concentration and corporate farming laws; the end to
mandatory check off programs that use farmers' money to
support and promote genetic engineering research.

7. Important Recent Articles

Below are the titles and links to interesting articles
published recently on issues related to organic food and
food safety. These articles can be found on the website of
our affiliated organization, the Campaign for Food Safety

10-25, Livestock Antibiotic Debate Heats Up,

10-18, Thailand To Ban Altered Seeds,

10-12, Mexico's farming habits under pressure,

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