USDA Agrees To Allow Meat
To Be Labeled 'Organic'
WASHINGTON (AP) - Consumers who want to expand their menu of organic foods soon will find organic meat and poultry products on store shelves.
The Agriculture Department agreed Thursday to allow the labels while the agency continues work on national standards for all organic foods.
``This announcement means more information and more choice for American consumers,'' Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said. ``It will help organic family farmers and ranchers further expand their already growing markets.''
Organic certification generally means no pesticides, herbicides or preservatives have been sprayed on the growing fruits or vegetables. For livestock, organic producers mostly shun the use of antibiotics and confined feeding areas, opting instead to give organic animals access to the outdoors, fresh air and sunlight.
Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association, called the decision ``a victory for the organic industry and consumers.''
``We've been working on this issue for about eight years,'' DiMatteo said. ``I think people have an interest in having choices in the marketplace.''
DiMatteo said consumers will see the first organic meat, poultry and egg products in stores by early spring. Certified organic meat processors will have to apply to USDA for label approval.
Naturally grown fruits, vegetables and other products have been allowed to carry the organic label for some time. Until Thursday, USDA had prohibited the label for meat, which is more strictly regulated.
To alleviate the disparity and respond to a growing organic industry, USDA is developing national standards to cover the entire industry. The rules would replace a hodgepodge of state and private certification programs that sometimes differ on their definition of organic.
Glickman chose to allow meat labels in the interim, partly because development of national standards is taking longer than expected, officials said. Aides said he also thought the rule would provide a boost for organic farmers, who tend to be smaller family farmers.
The organic industry has grown in recent years as more and more consumers become worried about health effects of pesticides and other chemicals in food and about Earth's ability to sustain conventional farming.
The Organic Trade Association estimates that the organic industry is growing at least 20 percent a year, with current overall sales of about $4.2 billion.