What is Organic Agriculture?

The majority of us have the notion that products cultivated under the designation of organic mean that they have been produced without the use of pesticides or other chemicals at any point in the production process. This is an incorrect assumption. That is also what the majority of smaller organic farms in the United States believe it to mean, making it the most common interpretation. Those of us who are concerned about the well-being of our birds will frequently choose to provide them with foodstuffs that we consider to be produced in an organic manner. The organic farmers’ association has developed a thorough and stringent set of organic laws in order to guarantee that food products with the “organic” label are, in fact, produced in an organic manner.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has only just presented a proposal for a National Organic Program. If approved, this program would replace the existing 33 private and 11 state organic certification companies, each of which has its own set of requirements. Growers and consumers alike might stand to benefit from national guidelines that are effectively drafted and consistently enforced. However, organic growers are particularly concerned about this plan from the USDA since it seems to dilute the fundamental ideas and philosophy of the organic food industry. (This movement had its start in the 1960s as a reaction to the rising prevalence of the use of chemicals in agricultural production. It is estimated that the industry is worth $3.5 billion at the moment and is expanding at a rate of 20% annually.)

Farmers that practice organic farming believe that the proposal put out by the USDA would modify the definition of organic to imply “nearly organic” or “kind of organic.” The plan calls for organic farming to be able to make use of sewage sludge (Section 205.22), irrigation (Section 205.17), and genetic engineering (Section 205.8). All of these practices are currently prohibited. Growers and consumer advocates are speaking out against the inclusion within the definition of organic of chemically treated seeds and seedlings, botanical pesticides, antibiotics and some hormones for livestock, restricted space for livestock (i.e., factory farming techniques), and the negation of traditional buffer zones around organic fields to reduce pesticide drift from neighboring conventional fields. These growers and consumer advocates are outraged by the inclusion of these non-organic practices within the definition of organic.

These are just some of the many issues that have been raised in response to this plan from the USDA. Growers of organic food feel that the proposal put out by the USDA would destroy organic farming and deny customers the right to know that products labeled as “organically cultivated” mean exactly what they claim to imply. This is a problem for bird breeders that prioritize avoiding the consumption of food that has been treated with pesticides. Jeanette Marie Pontacq can be reached via fax at (415) 663-1863 or via e-mail at [email protected] if you would like any additional information regarding the organic farmers. You can fax your comments to the USDA at (202) 690-4632, or you can send them by normal mail to Eileen Stommes, Deputy Administrator, AMS, USDA, Room 4007-S, Ag Stop 0275, P. O. Box 96456, Washington, District of Columbia 20090-6456. When submitting your comments in writing, make sure to include the docket number TMD-94-00-2. The USDA will only accept written comments until May 1, 1998, which is the deadline.

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