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Tough New Rules On Organic Products In US

Tough new rules are about to announced in the United States in an effort to create an official definition of 'organic.' John Howard reports.

The US government has decided to propose a ban on genetically engineered grains in any food labelled organic and it will also ban pesticides on crops labelled organic, bar the use of sewage sludge as fertiliser, prohibit irradiation and tightly restrict the use of antibiotics in farm animals.

The regulations, which are expected to be formally announced next week by the Department of Agriculture, will embrace organic standards on farm subjects ranging from how animals are treated to what constitutes organic manure.

In addition to trying to satisfy a growing minority of American consumers who favour organic foods, the new rules could also serve to diffuse a contentious trade conflict with Europe.

When European government's banned some of the same controversial farming practices that will be prohibited by the proposed organic rules, the US called them unfair barriers to trade and imposed retaliatory trade sanctions.

A possible way out of the dispute is to offer Europe grains free of genetic engineering and beef free of hormones and antibiotics. Foods that will now become available and encouraged under the new US organic rules.

Advocates of a strict definition of 'organic' called the new rules a dramatic turnaround from the adminstration's first proposals two years ago which resulted in an outpouring of protest from organic farmers and consumers as being too lax.

After the proposed 600 pages of new regulations are formally announced, they will be subject to a 90-day public comment period. The organic food regulations would implement the Organic Food Production Act 1990.

A battle is still looming, however, over who will be responsible if genetically modified seeds contaminate organic crops. Biotechnology companies play down the problem saying it is the organic food producer who is responsible and that they need to take precautions and can do that by putting up a buffer zone of non-engineered crops.

But advocates say it would be unfair to penalise organic growers if their neighbours genetically modified seeds blow into their fields. The Department of Agriculture is expected to address the issue in the new organic rules.


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