Health conscience shoppers won't have to question whether food labled "organic" is actually free of radiation or genetic engineering now that new food labeling standards have been adopted.
Ten years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) made a commitment to standardize the definition of organic foods. The result, National Organic Standards, was released last week. Those standards have been approved by the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU).
"It is tremendous to finally have these standards and to have standards upon which consumers, the organic community and producers agree," RMFU President Dave Carter said. "Production of organic food and fiber is in demand by consumers and is a wonderful niche-market option for family farmers and ranchers."
The new standards prohibit genetic engineering, ionizing radiation and sewage sludge in the production of organic foods. The minimum percentage of organic ingredients in products labeled "Made with Organic Ingredients" was increased from 50 to 70 percent and requires manufactures to use organic ingredients in organic products whenever possible. The final rule is compatible with European organic standards and provides an accreditation process for foreign entities seeking certification for exports into the United States.
The RMFU believes the standards are particularly friendly to family-sized ranches and farms.
The USDA also announced implementation of a new cost-share program aimed at helping small producers in 15 states receive the organic certification required by the new standards. The new program will allow the government to pay whichever is higher, 70 percent of a producer's certification costs or $500.
In addition, handlers who sell less than $5,000 of organic agricultural products annually are exempt from certification, but must comply with national standards in order to label their products as organic.
Sandy Baird and her husband, Randy, produce organic wheat on 23 acres outside of Craig. Sandy believes the regulations are necessary and said their enforcment it will be a great thing for the organic industry.
"They are stronger than I believed they would be," Baird said. "I think its a step in the right direction. There is a bonus to being organic now and big ag business wants in, and they are going to try and suppress the standards."
Along with the tougher organic standards, the aid for the certification process also caught Bairds attention. She said becoming certified is one of the largest hurdles that organic producers face. In fact, she said the certification process is so ridiculous that she hasn't certified her farm yet, and instead of calling the wheat she produces organic, she refers to it as natural.
"Getting Colorado certification is just basically a waste of time and money, but if there are national standards, I'm all for that," Baird said.
Overall Baird said it looks like the USDA has taken the right approach in looking out for the little guy. She believes that large corporate producers have been taking advantage of the term organic and trying to cash in on the popularity of organic foods when their products shouldn't be defined as organic. If the standards for organic labeling remain high and are enforced, she believes much has been accomplished, but for right now she is taking a wait-and-see attitude.
"Big industry badgers to reduce standards all of the time," Baird said.