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Looser Organic Standards Rejected

Congress repeals legislation that had weakened feed requirements for livestock producers.

April 15, 2003|Melinda Fulmer | Times Staff Writer

Congress has overturned legislation that loosened the 7-month-old standards regulating organic food. The legislation allowed poultry farmers and other livestock producers to skip using organic feed, but still label their products as organically grown.

A supplemental appropriations bill was passed by the House on Saturday, after action by the Senate, repealing a last-minute rider to the 2003 spending bill that gave farmers the green light to not use organic feed if it cost more than twice as much as conventional feed grown with pesticides.

It is expected to be signed by President Bush this week.

"This will help maintain confidence in the new standards," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who offered the bipartisan amendment. "Consumers need to know that the 'USDA Organic' label means what it says."

Stringent standards for producing organic meat were enacted as part of the federal Organic Standards Act in October after 12 years of debate. The standards ban the use of antibiotics, pesticides and other synthetic chemicals in animal feed.

The eleventh-hour addition to the spending bill changed that, essentially eliminating the organic feed requirement because it typically costs three times as much as its nonorganic counterpart.

The rider, inserted by Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.), threatened to cut demand for organic meat and reduce the incentive for farmers to grow organic feed. Organic meat sales, at more than $400 million annually, are for less than 1% of all meat sales.

The rider was added after Deal had unsuccessfully lobbied the Department of Agriculture on behalf of one Georgia company, Fieldale Farms, to receive a waiver of the organic feed requirement.

Leahy and others claimed that the rider was an attempt to allow Fieldale to skirt regulations while still being allowed to label its products organic.

Deal later changed his position and supported the Leahy amendment.

Organic poultry operations and feed producers applauded the repeal, saying it demonstrates how hard it is to water down organic standards.

"We've set a precedent now," said Randy Duranceau, vice president of Petaluma Poultry in Northern California, the nation's largest organic chicken supplier.

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