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Feature article from the February, 2003 Newsletter


Are "Organic" Foods Really Organic?


Organic foods are those that are made entirely from plants and/or animals that were raised without the use of certain substances such as artificial pesticides, growth hormones and artificial fertilizers.  Can you trust the claim “organic” on a label?

Until recently, the agribusiness industry had free reign in labeling foods as organic.  In 2001 however, the Food and Drug Administration established rules regarding this category of things you may want to buy and eat.

Here are the new definitions:

If a food is labeled "Made with organic ingredients", it can contain as much as 30% non-organic material.

If a food is labeled "Organic", it contains at least 95% organic ingredients.

Only foods labeled "100% Organic" contain no non-organic material.

NOTE:  Even though the new rules went into effect early in 2001, farmers had until August of 2002 to comply.  Furthermore, foods  already on the shelf or in a store’s refrigeration cases when the rules become effective can still be sold.  This means that particularly in the case of canned and frozen foods, stores might not be free of items labeled under the old, unregulated system until mid 2003.  In fact, since frozen foods usually have freshness dates that are purposely encoded to be unintelligible to the consumer, there is no assurance that even a year from now you might not encounter bogus “organic” frozen products.

And as a last bit of bad news, the following items are exempt from the new labeling rules:  Fish and seafood, honey, mushrooms, culinary herbs, and pet food.

Note added after publication:  We have just learned that the new regulations are already being eroded:  In February of this year, a provision was slipped into the 3,000-page federal spending bill that allows livestock producers to use non-organic feed but still label the meat as "organic".  The rationale given by the livestock industry?  Organic feed is too expensive just now.

For more details, see for instance: www.freep.com/news/health/good4_20030304.htm


W. A. Shapiro


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3/24/2002 940