Organic Standard: Already in Danger?

I understand that the national organic food standard is in jeopardy. What happened? I thought this was a done deal.

– March 24, 2003

The national organic food standard is a done deal, but a move to weaken it slipped through Congress recently. The law, which sets national standards for what foods can be legitimately labeled "organic" went into effect this past fall. But in February, a Georgia congressman, Nathan Deal, got permission from J. Dennis Hastert, speaker of the House of Representatives, to add a little-noticed provision to the 3,000 page Federal Appropriations Act that undermines the National Organic Standard.

Deal, a Republican, inserted wording that would allow farmers to use non-organic feed for their livestock but to sell the meat, eggs and dairy products from those animals as "organic." Until then, the organic standard required that meat and dairy products couldn’t be labeled "organic" unless the animals were fed organically grown food. Deal acted in response to a request from a big constituent and campaign contributor, Fieldale Farms, a chicken processing company. Congress passed the appropriations bill containing Deal’s provision, which means that it is now the law.

Luckily, the change quickly came to the notice of farmers, environmentalists and others who support the Organic Standard and don’t want to see it weakened. I added my name to those of many consumers who started a lobbying campaign on the Internet to overturn Deal’s provision, and I will continue to work against any attempts to weaken the national standard. Legislation introduced to overturn Deal’s provision has broad bipartisan support including that of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. Some of the lawmakers backing the change have announced plans to organize an organic caucus to watch out for further actions like Congressman Deal’s.

To keep the pressure on Congress to repeal Deal’s provision, you can email your U.S. Senator or Congressman. To get their names and addresses go to the U.S. Senate’s Web site ( or the U.S. House of Representatives Web site (

Incidentally, results of a recently published study reinforce the importance of the organic food movement. Researchers at the University of California at Davis found that fruits and vegetables grown without pesticides or herbicides contained between 19 and 60 percent more cancer-fighting flavonoids than conventionally grown produce. Flavenoids are compounds that combat oxidative damage which permits free radical accumulation.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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