October 27, 2005

US lawmakers okay some synthetics for organic food

By Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate and House negotiators have
agreed to allow some synthetic materials to be used in
processing organic foods, officials of a trade group said on
Thursday, calling the step crucial for many organic food
companies to stay in business.

The provision was added to the annual spending budget for
the U.S. Agriculture Department despite objections from a
consumer group, which called it a sneak attack on organic food

The Organic Trade Association, representing North American
businesses that grow and market organic foods, sought the
special measure after a federal court ruling barred products
processed with synthetic ingredients from using the organic

The 38 ingredients prohibited by the court ranged from
ascorbic acid, a form of Vitamin C used as an additive, to the
jam thickener pectin. The ruling also barred dairy herds
converting to organic production from eating feed that was
partially non-organic.

Senate and House negotiators on Wednesday night finalized a
USDA spending bill for fiscal 2006 that would override the
court's decision. The bill is expected to be approved by both
chambers and signed into law by the president.

"Without those two key provisions, the face of the organic
industry and the marketplace for organic products would have
changed dramatically," the trade group's executive director,
Katherine DiMatteo, told reporters.

She said businesses, farmers and consumers supported the

USDA organic standards require different labels, according
to whether a food is 100 percent organic, has 95 percent
organic ingredients, or 70 percent or more organic ingredients.

The Organic Consumers Association, however, said the
legislation was pushed through by major food corporations that
are relative newcomers to the profitable, niche market.

"The process was profoundly undemocratic," said Ronnie
Cummins, the director of the consumer group. "The end result is
a serious setback for the multibillion-dollar alternative food
and farming system that the organic community has painstakingly
built up over the past 35 years."

For some organic companies, allowing the synthetic
ingredients is a temporary fix.

"When we took a look at what the (court) ruling did to
organic milk, we were aghast," said Theresa Marquez of Organic
Valley, a 750-farm cooperative. Because the co-op used hydrogen
peroxide in sterilizing cartons, it would have been forced to
alter its label.

"It would have a huge impact both financially and from a
marketing point of view," Marquez said.

Farmers in her co-op researched organic alternatives to the
four synthetics now used, she said. "We've looked very, very
closely at all of them to figure out how to substitute them
with organics and we'll continue to do that."