religious vegetarians: I suppose this term encompasses a wide
variety of belief systems, but I would like to note that a few weeks ago I
queried the Union of Orthodox Rabbis, one of the main groups that
certifies whether a food is considered kosher by observant Jews, and was
told that they had no problem with bioengineered foods. Their reasoning
was similar to that below--i.e., that the animal genes never are placed
directly into the food, but are simply copied by bacteria and only the
copies are inserted into the target food plant or animal.
Ruth Kava, Ph.D., R.D.
Director of Nutrition
American Council on Science and Health
1995 Broadway, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10023
Please bookmark: www.acsh.org
Date: Apr 18 2001 15:12:28 EDT
From: Andrew Apel
Colleagues, below are excerpts from the response of the ORCA (The Organic
Coffee Association) to the Organic Consumers Association’s “Frankenbucks”
campaign. The OCA doesn’t have the full backing of the organic industry
and there are good reasons why Starbuck’s should not capitulate.
This is from http://www.orcacoffee.org/news_story.asp?ID=11
ORCA’S Response To OCA’s “Frankenbucks” Campaign
To: Ronnie Cummins - Organic Consumers Association 3/6/2001
Dear Ronnie, After reading your most recent newsletter, I am saddened and
dismayed at the course of action that your group is taking. As the
President and co-founder of ORCA (the Organic Coffee Association), which
is a world wide coalition of certified organic coffee growers, importers,
exporters, roasters and retailers, I must inform you that our association
will not sanction, nor participate in your action. Indeed, we must
recommend to our members that they boycott your action.
* * *
The path that you are proposing is very hazardous; indeed it threatens the
long-term realization of our mutual goals. We have two main problems with
1. You have chosen Starbucks as your first target, mirroring the failed
attempt by Global Exchange This is a hypocritical move, and a tactical
2. You have chosen to align your movement with Fair Trade. We humbly
submit that you haven’t done your homework.
Please learn from our experience! Here are our thoughts on each point.
#1. In your article, you state: “Currently four food giants basically
control the world’s coffee supply: Procter and Gamble (Folgers);
Kraft/Phillip Morris (Maxwell House); Sarah Lee (European brands), and
Nestle (Hills Brothers)”
This is accurate. Therefore, these should be your targets! Starbuck’s may
not be one of America’s best-loved brands, but they are very popular with
their consumer group. You are also way off the mark if you think that they
have the volume or influence to make things happen with regards to
worldwide coffee supply. Starbuck’s buys coffee with one goal in mind -
quality (see Fair Trade, below). In their quest for high-quality coffee,
they pay huge sums for coffee beans; usually well over the $1.26 quoted by
Fair Trade. It is a commonly known fact in the coffee trade that
Starbuck’s buyers are some of the most aggressive bidders around. Nearly
all of our roaster members have lost a coffee to Starbuck’s at one time or
another. (ORCA membership is comprised of some of the industries most
knowledgeable and experienced buyers) The sweatshop accusation simply
doesn’t stick. Pick another target - you will get much better results.
Global prices are so low because the 4 companies referenced above DO pay.
30 cents for coffee. Starbuck’s simply doesn’t.
Do you find the big 4 “too big” to go after? Going after Starbuck’s will
simply hurt the biggest buyer of specialty coffee, one that pays well for
quality coffee. What’s the point? Nobody has love in his or her heart for
#2. Fair trade coffee is not ready for prime time. Sorry, but it is true.
The reason that Starbucks does not market it is that there isn’t enough of
it that can pass even a minimum quality muster. Why? Fair Trade is not
indexed to quality. When you force a company to buy Fair Trade, you send a
message to farmers throughout the world that coffee, regardless of
quality, is worth $1.26/lb. Global Exchange makes this statement proudly,
and often. I submit that Deborah James has never had to buy coffee, which
she must then sell to consumers. Telling roasters (who you’ll need on
board to make this work) that they must pay more, for an inferior product,
is the Fair Trade message to the industry. This is not a market reality -
and it never will be. You cannot with good conscience subsidize a low
quality product and tell producers that this is sustainable. Sooner or
later, roasters will refuse to buy it, regardless of the activist
pressure. Coffee is a product whose prime consumer factor is quality - and
thus that must drive price. Price floors are an excellent idea, but they
must be indexed to quality. The Fair Trade economic model has a
fatal flaw when it comes to coffee. The coffee industry wants to solve
these problems, and we are being prevented from finding a workable
solution by the FT “bull in a china shop” assault. Being loud and
aggressive doesn’t make you right.
Find another partner!
Mark Inman President and co-Founder Organic Coffee Association
Date: 18 Apr 2001 20:34:00 -0000
From: "Connie Nozzolillo"
Subject: Jose Bove
We have heard about Bove's leading a peasant group in Agentina in the
destruction and occupation of a Monsanto plot last autumn. Has there
been any follow-up by the media on what has happened to the crops the
peasants were going to plant there? I have not seen any and am curious as
to what happened.
Activist Imported from France Criticizes Ottawa --- Government `Real
Source of Violence'
The Toronto Star
By Jennifer Ditchburn
April 19, 2001
French farmers' activist Jose Bove, twice convicted for acts of civil
disobedience, says the Canadian government not protesters will be the real
source of violence at the Summit of the Americas.
Bove, president of the Peasants Federation in France and a guest at the
parallel Peoples' Summit, said yesterday he was shocked by Ottawa's
approach to security in Quebec city. A 4.5-kilometre security perimeter
will be sealed tonight before the Summit of the Americas begins and 34
hemispheric leaders arrive in the city. The summit runs tomorrow through
"The Canadian government represents violence. It built this wall, it
transferred prisoners to make room for arrested protesters," Bove told a
"By putting in place this environment of fear, the Canadian government is
creating a violent situation."
Bove served time in France for entering a storage area operated by the
bio-tech firm Novartis and mixing up batches of genetically modified corn
with non-modified corn, essentially rendering it useless.
He was also convicted for dismantling a McDonald's restaurant window
during a protest but he is appealing that conviction and a three-month
Bove opposes free-trade agreements that he says lead to the displacement
of millions of peasants and farm families who can no longer afford to sell
their food or even grow it for subsistence reasons because of cheaper
He said he would participate in whatever type of protests that local
activists have planned but wouldn't try to lead the way. He didn't rule
out the potential for property destruction.
"Even if some windows are going down on Saturday, that's not violence,
violence is the free market," Bove said.
Britain's Prince Charles received a Chicken Little Award
Lack of food is usually considered a real problem. Britain's Prince
Charles received a Chicken Little Award for his public opposition to
genetically modified (GM) food. "The Prince and the radical environmental
organization, Greenpeace, ignore the need to feed six billion people every
day. GM food holds the promise of abundantly feeding everyone, without
having to consume more land for farming. Of course, the Prince has been
dining royally since the day he was born."
Genetically Modified Foods: Ending Famine Forever
by Alan Caruba
Date: 19 Apr 2001 08:09:26 -0000
From: "Prof. A. Perera"
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Vegetarians, Terror Bill, Thailand, France, UK,
Dear fellow scientists,
Could someone please let me know whether a new rice plant produced by
transferring a RICE gene (say from a traditional variety) to a
currently recommended RICE variety by means of agrobacterium-mediated gene
transfer or biolistic method can still be called a transgenic plant ? Is
it a GMO?
Prof. Athula Perera
Faculty of Agriculture
University of Peradeniya
From: "Cindy Lynn Richard, CIH"
Subject: April 26 meeting "The Challenge of Food Allergens"
* "The Challenge of Food Allergens" is the topic of an April 26 Joint
Meeting of the Washington DC Section of the Institute of Food
Technologists and the Metro-DC Affiliate of the Society for Nutrition
Speakers include Anne Muñoz-Furlong of The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis
Network; Dr. Jupiter Yeung of the National Food Processors Association;
and a US FDA Spokesperson to be determined.
Details are available from the Chair of the Washington, DC Section of IFT,
Joseph D. Eifert, Ph.D. who iswith the Department of Food Science and
Technology at Virginia Tech at 540 231 3658; e-mail: email@example.com
From: "LEE, SIMONE"
Subject: Sustainable Food Security Conference -- Bonn, Germany
The IFPRI 2020 Conference on "Sustainable Food Security for All by 2020"
will take place in Bonn, Germany, on September 4-6, 2001. The program has
been posted on the conference website http://www.ifpri.org/2020conference
Please note there is no fee to participate in this Conference but
registration is required for admittance. You may register online.
Harvest of hope or fear?
By Ingo Potrykus
April 18, 2001
Campaigners, farmers and experts meet in Norwich today to debate whether
GM foods can really feed the world. Ingo Potrykus, the scientist behind
'humanitarian' rice, says yes.
Golden rice contains three genes which provide the precursor to vitamin A
in the endosperm, that part of the rice kernel we eat. Rice normally does
not contain any provitamin A. For the 2.4bn poor rice consumers in
developing countries, this leads to vitamin A deficiency.
Traditional interventions such as distribution of, and fortification with,
vitamin A, dietary education and encouragement for a diversified diet all
help - but they still leave us with about 500, 000 blind and 1m dead
children a year. We need complementing alternatives. According to the
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the most sustainable
solution is to improve the basic food sources with regard to the missing
vitamins and micro-nutrients. This goal can be approached with traditional
breeding, or with genetic engineering. Provitamin A rice, or "golden
rice", was not possible with traditional techniques and it is, therefore,
a "GMO" - a fact that comes with severe consequences. These include
intellectual property rights, established rules and regulations, consumer
acceptance and hostility from a professional GM opposition.
We saw golden rice from the beginning as a humanitarian project, with the
final goal to provide it free of costs and limitations to subsistence
farmers and the poor in developing countries.
It was not developed for and by industry, but in public research
institutions, and with exclusively public funding. It will be converted
into numerous, locally adapted, varieties in public research institutions
in the rice-growing developing countries, and with special emphasis on the
needs of the poor.
Its introduction will be preceded by careful assessment of
country-by-country needs and it will, of course, have to pass all the
established GM biosafety assessments. It will be given free of charge and
limitations, via national institutions, to resource-poor farmers in
developing countries for local use and trade.
Its cultivation does not require any additional inputs, avoids the
negative side effects of the "green revolution", benefits the poor and
disadvantaged. It also fulfills an urgent need, can be re-sown from its
own harvest, does not reduce biodiversity, does not present any
conceivable threat to the environment, and will be made available only if
there is no risk to the consumer.
There is no "push" situation for commercial return, but a "pull" situation
from malnutrition due to existing vitamin A deficiency. The golden rice
technology will also be trans ferred to other major food security crops
such as wheat, cassava, sweet potato, banana, grain, legumes and, as
mentioned, the trait was only possible through the application of genetic
As soon as the scientific problems of engineering the provitamin A
biosynthetic pathway into the rice endosperm was solved, the GMO-inherent
hurdles had to be overcome to make golden rice available to the poor.
The first hurdle was the intellectual property rights involved in the
technology. How did industry respond to this challenge? When we realised
that we had used technology burdened by 70 intellectual and trade property
rights, we also realised that we needed help from a partner to make golden
rice available to resource-poor farmers.
We found that partner not in the public domain but in industry. With
Zeneca (now Syngenta) we agreed that, in return for the right for
commercial exploitation, Zeneca would support our humanitarian project.
The border line between "humanitarian" and "commercial" was set at a
generous Dollars 10,000 a year income from golden rice.
With help from lawyers, the patent figure was brought down from 70 to
around 12, and thanks to Zeneca we finally received free licences for
"humanitarian use" for all intellectual property rights involved.
So, how did Greenpeace respond to the humanitarian golden rice project?
One of the first experiences was with Benedikt Haerlin, genetic
engineering coordinator of Greenpeace International. His summary after six
hours of detailed discussion of the project in 2000 was: "Sorry,
Greenpeace is by principle against transgenic plants." At a Greenpeace
press conference eight months later, on February 9, at the Biovision
conference in Lyon, he said: "Greenpeace accepts a moral obligation in
context with golden rice and will not apply its routine strategy - find
A few days later Haerlin was again called to order and the Greenpeace
dogma reinstated. On February 12, Emma Gibson of Greenpeace UK, stated:
"Greenpeace policy has not changed. Neither the moral nor the
environmental issues have changed. Greenpeace is against any release of
GMO into the environment because of the potential risk; and Greenpeace
reserves the right to take action to prevent any such releases." This was
subsequently confirmed by Haerlin.
So far, nobody could construct a conceivable environmental risk from
golden rice. As the only biological difference between golden and normal
rice is the activation in the endosperm of the same biochemical pathway
for provitamin A, which is active in the entire rice plant, except for the
endosperm, it is obviously very difficult to construct any selective
advantage in any environment, and consequently any environmental risk.
All this will also be carefully studied in field release experiments
(which Greenpeace may decide to destroy). On the other side we have the
urgent need to improve provitamin A supply with the diet to reduce
blindness and the deaths of children. Greenpeace does not care. It places
its radical, anti-technological goals above moral considerations, at the
expense of millions of the poor and underprivileged.
Clearly, industry has higher moral standards. Greenpeace, of course, will
argue that industry has good reasons to support golden rice, because it
improves acceptance of the technology. This is true - and why not? The
example shows that the technology can produce valuable results for the
I am afraid that Greenpeace also would have good reasons to accept golden
rice. The press conference at Lyon was an indication that Greenpeace will
lose its credibility if it continues with its unsubstantiated hostility.
Ingo Potrykus is a retired professor of plant science in Zurich. He was
leader of the team that developed golden rice with backing from the
GM farmer pulls out after 'threats'
18 April, 2001
A farmer in the north of Scotland who was due to begin trials of
genetically modified crops this spring has said he is calling them off
because of threats against his two young children.
Stephen Barclay, who farms at Smithton near Inverness and Auldearn near
Nairn, said he had pulled out of the trials after a letter, claiming to be
from a GM concern group in the area.
He claims the letter made threats against his four-year-old son and
Mr Barclay had come under pressure from neighbouring farmers not to go
ahead with the trials - but he said that was not what prompted his
decision to pull out.
He said he had been the subject of a lot of bad press and had received
threats to his family.
"They have written a letter saying that our children may be in danger if
we continue with the trials," he said.
Mr Barclay said he had decided not to sow the GM-trial oilseed rape this
However, he said he hoped to get things cleared up so that he was in a
stronger position to take part in the trial at a later date.
The new trials of genetically modified crops were to go ahead at five
The Scottish Executive revealed that oilseed rape would be planted at
three sites near Daviot in Aberdeenshire, one at Auldearn near Nairn, and
another at Smithton near Inverness.
The farm-scale trials include a field at New Craig Farm, near Daviot,
where the first GM trial in Scotland was harvested last October.
Environmental activists staged a protest at the farm, where agrochemical
company had Aventis planted a 25-acre crop of GM oilseed rape.
All five applications, which were received in February, were vetted by the
Food Standards Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Health and Safety
Local communities were informed of the trials, which will also be planted
They are part of a three-year evaluation by the executive to test the
effects on other farm wildlife of herbicides associated with the GM crops.
Earlier this year a report by a Scottish Parliament committee recognised
the need for trials of genetically modified crops.
MSPs on the environment committee said the trials have a legitimate role
to play in the development of genetic modification technology.
However, the findings were not unanimous, with Green MSP Robin Harper and
the Scottish National Party's Bruce Crawford and Fiona McLeod the
Biotech offers Africans a chance to create their own practical solutions
April 19, 2001
Sir – Agricultural biotechnology research and development (R&D) in
industrialized countries is heavily supported by private and government
institutions and universities, which develop products and services for
capital-intensive farming systems. Although some innovations have
spill-over effects that might benefit Africa (especially large-scale
farmers), most are likely to marginalize poor farmers.
One solution is to reorient international biotechnology research to take
account of small-scale farmers' needs. But experience shows that this
option is unlikely to succeed in the long term.
A more realistic way forward is for African scientists, businesses and
farmers to devise biotechnological innovations that are appropriate to
local cultural, economic, political, technological, institutional,
infrastructural and social factors.
The success story of Africa Online, the premier provider of Internet
services throughout Africa, illustrates an entrepreneurial spirit that
should be possible to replicate in the biotechnology arena. Africa Online
was founded in 1994 by three Kenyans studying at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology and Harvard University. It now serves thousands of
people and businesses throughout Africa.
Private-sector companies wishing to invest in biotechnology are attracted
by successes in tissue-culture-aided production and multiplication of
disease-free planting materials for cassava, yam, banana, plantain, citrus
and flowers in countries such as Kenya and Ghana. However, Africans must
learn simple technologies that are not only appropriate and feasible, but
Priority can be given to biotechnologies that have worked under comparable
conditions elsewhere. Last year, for example, thousands of poor Chinese
farmers obtained up to 40% increases in sweet-potato yields by using a
novel seed-production technique to eliminate viral diseases from planting
No genetic improvements were made, and the farmers used no more
fertilizers or pesticides than usual.
In Africa, the key players will include, among others, scientists,
policy-makers, non-governmental organizations, farmers and farmers'
(especially women's) groups. Private biotechnology initiatives must go
hand in hand with development of regulatory frameworks and
public-awareness campaigns, and with other R&D programmes targeting poor
farmers (see, for example, F. Wambugu, Nature 400, 15–16; 2001).
The mistake of the Green Revolution was that it treated all the world as
if it were the same. The lesson for agriculture is that problems must be
solved locally and communally, through a bottom-up approach that empowers
farmers to support and own technologies that benefit them. Entrepreneurial
scientists, businesspeople, lawyers and farmers are needed to explore the
promises of biotechnology.
This is a wake-up call for African biotechnology stakeholders to transform
the potential wealth of genetic resources and traditional knowledge into
the reality of increased incomes — and better food and health care — for
Biotechnology Laboratory, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture,
PMB 5320, Ibadan, Nigeria
Geneticist proposes 'third way' on GM crops
By John Vidal, environment editor
Thursday April 19, 2001
The growing world population will only be fed adequately if governments
adopt "people friendly" farming methods which include GM technology, one
of the world's leading scientists and humanitarians told industry
scientists and academics yesterday.
MF Swaminathan, a geneticist credited with being the father of India's
green revolution - which prevented millions of people suffering food
shortages and famine in the post war years - offered a 'third way' to
warring proponents and opponents of GM technology.
He called for governments and scientists to back sensitive farming methods
which would keep people on the land and avoid social or ecological harm.
He said genetically modified crops did "have a place" in the future and
could work well alongside organic systems of farming.
Professor Swaminathan's vision of world agriculture - which must cater for
an estimated 2bn more mouths within 20 years - suggested that the
corporate GM model of farming would not benefit the poorest.
He urged governments to provide more public funding of gene technology and
called for community participation in science.
"We must adopt a precautionary principle", he told representatives of
Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont and other GM companies at an international
conference at Britain's leading GM research organisation, the John Innes
Centre in Norwich.
"If you want an inclusive society you must go to the poorest person and
ask if they will gain anything from technological development," he said.
"Farming cannot be left to the control of a few multi-national companies.
The poor, who are most of the world's population, need fair and free
trade. There must be ethics and equity in farming."
Prof Swaminathan is developing mixed GM and organic farming methods at his
institute near Calcutta, where scientists are going into the community and
trying to develop rice, tobacco and other crops that are tolerant to salt
water. The experiment has been widely praised by governments and pressure
He is backed by the influential Rockefeller Foundation in New York, which
has also called for a "new green revolution" which includes GM foods. His
comments will both please and worry corporations and anti-GM advocates.
Most GM technology is in the hands of a few large companies who have been
accused of trying to monopolise world agriculture - a situation which has
prompted much of the anti-GM fervour around the world.
According to UN estimates, world food requirements will increase by 50%
within 25 years and will have to be produced from less land with less
water, fewer chemicals and less labour. Many governments see no option but
to follow the corporate GM route which promises extra yields.
But several scientists at the conference said GM food production in
developing countries was a more difficult issue than in Europe or the US.
"Tropical countries face more complex issues including patent rights, the
freedom of companies to operate and specific risk assessment," said Ana
Sittenfeld, a geneticist at the University of Costa Rica.
The three day debate is the largest international conference so far on GM
foods in developing countries. It is expected to reach a consensus that in
some cases they will be crucial to feeding people, but in other cases they
may be inappropriate.
At a separate meeting organised by British environment groups, some of the
world's poorest farmers testified that GM foods had no place in feeding
growing populations and might even destabilise societies.
"What we have built up slowly and surely will collapse with new GM seeds,"
said Laxmi Begari of Deccan Development Society in central India.
Journal Nature encourages farmers to grow organic produce
NPR, All Things Considered
April 18, 2001
ROBERT SIEGEL, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm
Less than 2 percent of the produce grown in this country is organically
grown. A new study published in the journal Nature aims to encourage more
farmers to try this more benign method of production. And it reports that
apples grown organically in eastern Washington state are more profitable
and better for the environment than conventionally grown varieties. But
some farmers say the story is not so simple. NPR's Richard Harris reports.
RICHARD HARRIS reporting:
John Reganold is a soil scientist at Washington State University and a
strong proponent of sustainable agriculture. To demonstrate that organic
farming is worthwhile, he teamed up with an apple farmer in Washington's
Yakima Valley. They planted four acres of apples on the corner of this
50-acre ranch. One-third of the test plot was grown organically;
one-third was grown conventionally; and one-third was grown with an
intermediate method called integrated pest management, which combines
organic methods with some conventional pesticides.
It's been six years now, and Reganold's reporting the results of this
experiment. First, they compared 20 different qualities of the soil.
Mr. JOHN REGANOLD (Soil Scientist, Washington State University): And we
found that the organic and integrated farming systems, by far, had the
best soil, compared to the conventional method because the organic and the
integrated systems had compost being added, and the conventional only had
synthetic fertilizers being added.
HARRIS: The organic apples, Golden Delicious, lasted a bit better in
storage, and college students asked to sample them liked the three kinds
Mr. REGANOLD: The students could discern a difference in sweetness and
tartness, but we also had a rating of overall flavor and texture, and
there was no difference between the three apples.
HARRIS: For farmers, the biggest question is the economics. It did take
a lot more labor to produce apples organically, so the cost was higher to
apply the organically certified insecticides and fungicides, to weed, to
thin trees by hand and to fertilize with compost. But organic apples also
sold to the wholesaler for 50 percent more than conventionally grown
apples, so they ended up being more profitable. Reganold figures that
farmers would do just as well with organic apples if they could get 10 to
15 percent more for them at the warehouse.
Mr. REGANOLD: For that 10 or 15 percent, you're getting these amazing
environmental rewards. And it's not just to the farmer; it's to the
consumer. You're getting better soil. It's more energy efficient, so
you're saving on the energy. And it's less damaging to the environment.
HARRIS: Reganold would like to see a lot more organic farming. He
admits, though, that this experience may not translate well to other
places. The Yakima Valley is essentially a desert, so there are a lot
fewer pests there than in other apple-growing regions in the country and
organic methods are more successful there.
But even in the Yakima Valley, organic apple farming isn't as appealing as
suggested by this study. Andy Dolf(ph) is the farmer who planted the
trees on one corner of his orchard. He says he's like to convert more
acreage to organic, but economics argue against it.
Mr. ANDY DOLF (Farmer): The organic prices are pretty good, but it takes
three years to do the transition from conventional to organic.
HARRIS: That means he'd have to spend an extra 20 percent or so to grow
his apples organically, but he could only get the regular price for the
fruit. At the end of that three-year period, there's no guarantee that
organic apples will still sell at a premium. There's a small market for
organic fruit at the moment, and supply is already starting to exceed the
Mr. DOLF: It's like anything else in agriculture. If people see an
economic opportunity, usually it only lasts for a few years.
HARRIS: Already, organic Red Delicious apples in the Yakima Valley sell
for the same price as conventionally grown fruit, according to farmers
there. And this year they're being warned of a greatly expanded crop of
organic apples, one that could well outstrip demand and send prices down
Richard Harris, NPR News, Washington, DC.
Will Certification Protect Consumers?
By Stephen Barrett, M.D.
If you, as a consumer, want to purchase a fake or a fraud of one kind or
another, should your government guarantee your right to do so? More than
that, is your government obligated to prosecute one who, knowing of your
propensity for fraud, tricks you into buying the genuine in place of
buying the fake? Remembering that "your government" is all the rest of us,
is it right for you to take our time and money to underwrite such
ridiculous exercises as making sure you are cheated when you want to be
cheated? And must we penalize the man who breaks his promise to cheat you?
These astute questions were raised in 1972 by Dick Beeler, editor of
Animal Health and Nutrition, who was concerned about laws being adopted in
California and Oregon to certify "organic" foods. Those laws signaled the
beginning of efforts that culminated in 1990 with passage of the U.S.
Organic Foods Production Act, which ordered the U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) to set certification standards. Although USDA had
opposed passage of the act, the Alar scare plus a campaign by
environmental, consumer, and farm groups persuaded Congress to include it
in the 1990 Farm Bill .
As directed by the law, the Secretary of Agriculture established a
National Organic Standards Board to help develop a list of substances
permissible in organic production and handling and to advise the Secretary
on other aspects of implementing a National Organic Program. In 1992, the
Secretary appointed 15 people, 8 of whom were industry members. The board
held 12 full-board meetings and 5 joint committee meetings and received
additional input through public hearings and written submissions from
interested persons. It presented its recommendations to the Secretary in
1994 and issued 30 subsequent addenda.
The Current Marketplace
Total retail sales of the organic industry have reportedly risen from $1
billion in 1990 to $4.2 billion in 1997. "Certified" organic cropland
production expanded from 473,000 acres to 667,000 acres between 1992 and
1994 and is expected to reach two million acres by the year 2,000. Despite
this rapid growth, the organic industry represents a very small percentage
of total agricultural production and sales.
The most common concept of "organically grown" food was articulated in
1972 by Robert Rodale, editor of Organic Gardening and Farming magazine,
at a public hearing:
Food grown without pesticides; grown without artificial fertilizers; grown
in soil whose humus content is increased by the additions of organic
matter, grown in soil whose mineral content is increased by the
application of natural mineral fertilizers; has not been treated with
preservatives, hormones, antibiotics, etc. 
However, in 1980, a team of scientists appointed by the USDA concluded
that there was no universally accepted definition of "organic farming."
Their report stated:
The organic movement represents a spectrum of practices, attitudes, and
philosophies. On the one hand are those organic practitioners who would
not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides under any circumstances. These
producers hold rigidly to their purist philosophy. At the other end of the
spectrum, organic farmers espouse a more flexible approach. While striving
to avoid the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, these
practitioners do not rule them out entirely. Instead, when absolutely
necessary, some fertilizers and also herbicides are very selectively and
sparingly used as a second line of defense. Nevertheless, these farmers,
too, consider themselves to be organic farmers .
Today, approximately 4,000 farmers and 600 handlers are certified by 33
private or 11 state agencies. Each certifying agency has its own standards
and identifying marks. No industrywide agreement exists about which
substances should be permitted or prohibited for organic production and
The Proposed Rule
On December 16, 1997, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service proposed
rules for a National Organic Program . The proposal includes: (1)
national standards for production and handling, (2) a National List of
approved synthetic substances, (3) a certification program, (4) a program
for accrediting certifiers, (5) labeling requirements, (6) enforcement
provisions, and (7) rules for importing equivalent products. A new USDA
seal will be the only permissible marker.
The proposed rule defines organic farming and handling as:
A system that is designed and managed to produce agricultural products by
the use of methods and substances that maintain the integrity of organic
agricultural products until they reach the consumer. This is accomplished
by using, where possible, cultural, biological and mechanical methods, as
opposed to using substances, to fulfill any specific function within the
system so as to: maintain long-term soil fertility; increase soil
biological activity; ensure effective pest management; recycle wastes to
return nutrients to the land; provide attentive care for farm animals; and
handle the agricultural products without the use of extraneous synthetic
additives or processing in accordance with the Act and the regulations in
The weed and pest-control methods to which this refers include crop
rotation, hand cultivation, mulching, soil enrichment, and encouraging
beneficial predators and microorganisms. If these methods are not
sufficient, various listed chemicals can be used. (The list does not
include cytotoxic chemicals that are carbon-based.) The proposal does not
call for monitoring specific indicators of soil and water quality, but
leaves the selection of monitoring activities to the producer in
consultation with the certifying agent.
For raising animals, antibiotics are not permitted as growth stimulants
but are permitted to counter infections. The rules permit up to 20% of
animal feed to be obtained from non-organic sources. This was done because
some nutrients (such as trace minerals) are not always available
organically. Irradiation, which can reduce or eliminate certain pests,
kill disease-causing bacteria, and prolong food shelf-life, is permitted
during processing. Genetic engineering is also permissible.
In an accompanying news release, USDA Secretary Dan Glickman stated:
What is organic? Generally, it is agriculture produced through a natural
as opposed to synthetic process. The natural portion of the definition is
fairly obvious, but process is an equally critical distinction. When we
certify organic, we are certifying not just a product but the farming and
handling practices that yield it. When you buy a certified organic tomato,
for instance, you are buying the product of an organic farm. And,
consumers are willing to fork over a little more for that tomato. They've
shown that they will pay a premium for organic food. National standards
are our way of ensuring that consumers get what they pay for.
The USDA proposal applies to all types of agricultural products and all
aspects of their production and handling, ranging from soil fertility
management to the packaging and labeling of the final product. The
document is intended to address production methods rather than the
physical qualities of the products themselves. In fact, it states: "No
distinctions should be made between organically and non-organically
produced products in terms of quality, appearance, or safety." In other
words, no claim should be made that the foods themselves are better -- or
Organic foods are certainly not more nutritious . The nutrient content
of plants is determined primarily by heredity. Mineral content may be
affected by the mineral content of the soil, but this has no significance
in the overall diet. If essential nutrients are missing from the soil, the
plant will not grow. If plants grow, that means the essential nutrients
are present. Experiments conducted for many years have found no difference
in the nutrient content of organically grown crops and those grown under
standard agricultural conditions.
"Organic" proponents suggest that their foods are safer because they have
lower levels of pesticide residues. However, the pesticide levels in our
food supply are not high. In some situations, pesticides even reduce
health risks by preventing the growth of harmful organisms, including
molds that produce toxic substances .
To protect consumers, the FDA sets tolerance levels in foods and conducts
frequent "market basket" studies wherein foods from regions throughout the
United States are purchased and analyzed. Its 1997 tests found that about
60% of fruits and vegetables had no detectable pesticides and only about
1.2% of domestic and 1.6% of imported foods had violative levels . Its
annual Total Diet Study has always found that America's dietary intakes
are well within international and Emvironmental Protection Agency
Most studies conducted since the early 1970s have found that the pesticide
levels in foods designated organic were similar to those that were not. In
1997, Consumer Reports purchased about a thousand pounds of tomatoes,
peaches, green bell peppers, and apples in five cities and tested them for
more than 300 synthetic pesticides. Traces were detected in 77% of
conventional foods and 25% of organically labeled foods, but only one
sample of each exceeded the federal limit .
Pesticides can locate on the surface of foods as well as beneath the
surface. The amounts that washing can remove depends on their location,
the amount and temperature of the rinse water, and whether detergent is
used. Most people rinse their fruits and vegetables with plain water
before eating them. In fact, Consumer Reports on Health has recommended
this .Consumer Reports stated that it did not do so because the FDA
tests unwashed products. The amount of pesticide removed by simple rinsing
has not been scientifically studied but is probably small. Consumer
Reports missed a golden opportunity to assess this.
Do pesticides found in conventional foods pose a health threat? Does the
difference in pesticide content warrant buying "organic" foods? Consumer
Reports equivocates: "For consumers in general, the unsettling truth is
that no one really knows what a lifetime of consuming the tiny quantities
of foods might do to a person. The effect, if any, is likely to be small
for most individuals -- but may be significant for the population at
large." But the editors also advise, "No one should avoid fruits and
vegetables for fear of pesticides; the health benefits of these foods
overwhelm any possible risk."
Manfred Kroger, Ph.D., Quackwatch consultant and Professor of Food Science
at The Pennsylvania State University, has put the matter more bluntly:
Scientific agriculture has provided Americans with the safest and most
abundant food supply in the world. Agricultural chemicals are needed to
maintain this supply. The risk from pesticide residue, if any, is
minuscule, is not worth worrying about, and does not warrant paying higher
Taste is determined primarily by freshness. In the early 1990s, Israeli
researchers made 460 assessments of 9 different fruits and vegetables and
no significant difference in quality between "organic" and conventionally
grown samples . The Consumer Reports' study found no consistent
differences in appearance, flavor, or texture.
Organically produced ("range-free) poultry are said to be raised in an
environment where they are free to roam. To use this term, handlers must
sign an affidavit saying that the chickens are provided with access to the
outdoors. A recent taste test conducted by Consumer Reports rated two
brands of free-range chicken as average among nine brands tested. Its
March 1998 issue stated few chickens choose to roam and that one manager
said that free-ranging probably detracts from taste because it decreases
the quality of the bird's food intake .
Health-food-industry trade and consumer publications indicate widespread
dissatisfaction with the proposed rules. The Henry A. Wallace Instutute
for Alternative Agriculture called them "Fatally flawed."  The Organic
Farmers Marketing Association stated:
The definition of organic as written in the proposed national organic
standards lacks the holistic approach central to organic practices. The
proposed rules take a reductionist approach to organic food production
that eliminates key concepts such as the health of the agro-ecosystem and
biodiversity on the farm.
The USDA received more than 270,000 comments on the proposed rules .
One distributors' association official wrote that if the rules are
implemented, its members would seek to buy its agricultural products from
foreign sources. Others have complained that the proposed fees are too
high. Other objections include permitted use of amino acids as growth
promoters, antibiotics (when necessary to save the animal's life),
synthetic animal drugs, food additives, and animal feed from non-organic
sources. Certification agencies with "higher standards" have objected that
they are prohibited from stating this on their labels. Some poultry
farmers have objected to provisions enabling intermingling of range-free
poultry and other poultry. However, the vast majority of the objections
pertain to the provisions that permit irradiation, genetic engineeering,
and the use of sewage sludge as fertilizer. In May 1998, Agriculture
Department Secretary Dan Glickman announced that the proposed standards
would be revised to eliminate these three provisions.
Canada, which in 1999 became the first country to establish a national
organic standard, also excludes these methods . The Candian seal is
The Bottom Line
Organic certification, no matter what the rules, will not protect
consumers. Foods certified as "organic" will neither be safer nor more
nutritious than "regular" foods. They will just cost more and may lessen
consumer confidence in the safety of "ordinary" foods. Instead of
legitimizing health nonsense, our government should do more to attack its
Larkin M. Organic foods get government "blessing" despite claims that
aren't kosher. Nutrition Forum 8:25-29, 1991.
Rodale R. Testimony. New York State public hearing in the matter of
organic foods. New York City, Dec 1, 1972.
USDA Study Team on Organic Farming. Report and Recommendations on Organic
Farming. USDA, July 1980.
National Organic Program; Proposed Rule. Federal Register 62:65850-65967,
Newsome R. Organically grown foods: A scientific status summary by the
Institute of Food Technologists' expert panel on food safety and
nutrition. Food Technology 44(12):123130, 1990.
FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Pesticide Program:
Residue Monitoring 1999, August 2000.
Organic produce. Consumer Reports 63(1):12-18, 1998.
Healthy ideas: Wash your produce. Consumer Reports on Health, 10(3):5,
Basker D. Comparison of taste quality between organically and
conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. American Journal of
Alternative Agriculture 7:129-136, 1992.
Chicken: What you don't know can hurt you. Consumer Reports 63(3):12-18,
Youngberg IG and others. Beyond the "Big Three": A comprehensive analysis
of the proposed National Organic Program. Greenbelt, MD: Henry A. Wallace
Instutute for Alternative Agriculture, April 30, 1998.
Public outcry to organic regs. Natural Foods Merchandiser 19(12):36, 1998.
The National Standard of Canada for Organic Agriculture. Ottawa: Canadian
Organic Advisory Board (COABB), June 1999.
Stephen Barrett, M.D., a retired psychiatrist who resides in Allentown,
Pennsylvania, is a board member of the National Council Against Health
Fraud and board chairman of Quackwatch, Inc. This article was adapted from
a similar one in the March/April 1998 issue of Nutrition Forum. News about
the USDA standards can be accessed through the National Organic Program.