Consumers are not always getting what they expect when they buy foods that carry the U.S. Department of Agriculture's green-and-white "USDA Organic" seal, write Kimberly Kindy and Lyndsey
Layton-Washington. The implied promise is that the food was produced without the use of pesticides or other chemicals in a way that is gentle to the environment.
Food and ag industry
lobbyists have been successful in convincing the USDA to loosen its interpretation of what "organic" means and to include products that contain trace elements of non-organic substances. The Organic
Trade Association, which represents corporations such as Kraft, Dole and Dean Foods, lobbied for language in a 2006 appropriations bill to allow certain synthetic food substances in the preparation,
processing and packaging of organic foods.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who sponsored the federal organics legislation, is among those who feel that lax standards undermine the program.
"If we don't protect the brand, the organic label, the program is finished," he says. "It could disappear overnight."
Joe Smillie, a member of the National Organic Standards Board, thinks
advocates for the most restrictive standards are unrealistic. "Consumers, they expect organic food to be growing in a greenhouse on Pluto. Hello? We live in a polluted world," he says. "It isn't pure.
We are doing the best we can."
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