New Standards Give Organic Farming More Clout

New Standards Give Organic Farming More Clout

Organic growers in California, which led the push to eliminate pesticides and other manmade chemicals from the food supply, say new federal standards could legitimize organic farming and be a boon to the industry.

Under U.S. Department of Agriculture standards released Wednesday, foods grown using approved organic methods will bear a seal that reads "USDA Organic." The standards are rooted in the efforts of a small cooperative, California Certified Organic Farmers, which in 1973 began inspecting and certifying member farmers' methods and setting standards for just what "organic" means.

"It's going to mean an additional standard of integrity in the marketplace and the ability to move product from state to state and country to country," said Ray Green, organic program manager for California's Department of Agriculture.

"In terms of the old supply and demand thing, it's going to create more integrity, consumer confidence and legitimacy, and that will fuel growth."

The rules may make organic farming and processing more attractive to bigger growers, which could drive prices down.

"I think, because they're federal, we'll see more of the large retailers getting into organics," said Brian Leahy, CCOF's executive director. "I think we'll see prices getting closer to conventional."

California growers had worried that federal standards would be weaker than the state's law, but the USDA included ways to monitor compliance. California had only required organic farms and processors to register with the state and promise to comply with the rules; inspectors rarely checked whether they were followed. The federal standards require annual certification.

"We're long-term organic growers. We've been in this 22 years," said Jonathan Steinberg, co-owner of Route 1 Farms in Santa Cruz. "It probably won't affect the way I grow much, but it'll be interesting to see if it affects my costs and if I see more competition."

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