FOR MUCH OF ITS EXISTENCE, ORGANIC AGRICULTURE WAS THOUGHT TO BE ROOTED IN SIXTIES COUNTER-CULTURE. HOWEVER, BY 1990 THE COUNTER-CULTURE AGRICULTURE HAD GROWN INTO PROMINENCE. LEADERS HOPED FOR GREATER GROWTH, AND THOUGHT NATIONAL STANDARDS WOULD HELP. TO THAT END, LANGUAGE WAS INSERTED INTO THE 1990 FARM BILL DIRECTING THE USDA TO DEVELOP SUCH STANDARDS. HOWEVER, A LARGELY DISINTERESTED USDA DID LITTLE TO DEVELOP ORGANIC RULES. IN THE MEANTIME, THE ORGANIC INDUSTRY GREW AT BETTER THAN 20 PERCENT ANNUALLY. SALES ARE PROJECTED AT MORE THAN 6-BILLION DOLLARS THIS YEAR.
WHEN THE USDA DID MANAGE TO ISSUE A PROPOSAL FOR STANDARDS, THE DRAFT WAS AN ANATHEMA TO AN ORGANIC INDUSTRY THAT HAD GROWN ITSELF INTO PROSPERITY WITHOUT GOVERNMENT SUBSIDY OR OVERSIGHT. THE USDA RETREATED AND CAME OUT THIS WEEK WITH A NEW PROPOSAL, MORE REFLECTIVE OF THE VALUES THAT HAVE GUIDED THE INDUSTRY.
THREE YEARS AGO, SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE DAN GLICKMAN PROPOSED THE FIRST SET OF RULES WHICH WOULD CREATE A NATIONAL CERTIFICATION FOR ORGANIC PRODUCTS. THE PROPOSED MEASURE SET OFF A FIRESTORM OF REACTION THAT GENERATED A RECORD 275-THOUSAND COMMENTS. MOST OF THEM LAMBASTED THE RULE FOR BEING TO ENCOMPASSING.
THIS WEEK, GLICKMAN ANNOUNCED WHAT IS EXPECTED TO BE THE SET OF NATIONAL STANDARDS FOR WHAT WILL BE CONSIDERED "ORGANIC."
IN RESPONSE TO THE OVERWHELMING AMOUNT OF NEGATIVE COMMENTS IN 1997, PRODUCTS BEARING THE "USDA CERTIFIED ORGANIC" LABEL WILL NOT HAVE BEEN GROWN IN SEWAGE SLUDGE, CONTAIN GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS, OR HAVE BEEN IRRADIATED ON THEIR WAY TO CONSUMERS.
THE DEPARTMENT WAS ALSO QUICK TO POINT OUT THE RULES WERE NOT AN ENDORSEMENT OF ORGANIC PRODUCTS AS BEING SAFER THAN THEIR CONVENTIONALLY GROWN COUNTERPARTS, BUT
MERELY A LIST OF STANDARDS FOODS MUST MEET TO BE LABELED "ORGANIC."
ORGANIC GROUPS HALED THE MEASURE AS BOTH FAIR AND APPROPRIATE.
Katherine DiMatteo, Organic Trade Organization: "I think today is a day to celebrate for all of the organic industry, both processors and handlers and farmers of organic products. We have waited a long time for this rule, 10 years as a matter of fact. And we should be happy today. I think, from what I've heard so far, this is a rule that we can embrace and be happy with."
MEANWHILE, THOSE SUPPORTING CONVENTIONAL AND GENETICALLY MODIFIED AGRICULTURE WERE NOT AS PLEASED
Michael Phillips, Biotechnology Industry Organization: "There is quite a indirect attempt by the organic community to indicate that these products are safer and that they are more nutritious than those produced through more traditional means. And there is no basis in fact for that."
THE WORDING OF THE FINAL RULE IS EXPECTED LATER THIS YEAR.