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CNN Today

USDA Unveils New Standards to Regulate Organic Food Industry

Aired March 7, 2000 - 2:47 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DONNA KELLEY, CNN ANCHOR: New guidelines unveiled today will no longer have you guessing what's in your fruits and veggies. The USDA has developed a set of standards to regulate the booming organic food industry.

CNN's medical correspondent Eileen O'Connor tells us about the new rules and explains what they mean to you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The USDA is issuing these new guidelines to assure consumers that food labeled "organic" meets consistent uniform standards.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our goal for the standard is to ensure that it is strict in what is acceptable as organic, is precise in its definition of organic, is easy for consumers to understand.

O'CONNOR: Without a federal rule, many states have adopted their own, creating a myriad of different requirements for the thousands of organic farmers and food handlers in this $4.7 billion industry, making it more difficult and costly to sell their produce across state lines or internationally, and confusing consumers as to which products really were organic.

The new rules require that any food labeled as organic must come from businesses that are certified as USDA approved; allow animals access to pastures and outdoor land and prohibit routine confinement; control crop pests, diseases and weeds primarily by preventative methods or natural pesticides; and use no antibiotics, radiation, sewage sludge or genetic engineering in plant production.

Proponents of genetically engineered foods, those designed through the manipulation of plant DNA, say labeling them as nonorganic is based on social prejudices and not sound science.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Foods derived from crops through biotechnology have been subjected to more analysis for safety than any other foods in the history of humanity.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'CONNOR: Still, it's because the USDA will not consider genetically engineered foods organic that consumer groups say they will support this new rule -- Donna.

KELLEY: Eileen, what about the state laws that could be in place in some states? Does it conflict with those?

O'CONNOR: Well, what will happen is that the federal law will supersede the state law. But if states do have a stronger version than this new federal regulation, they can apply to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to have their version approved -- Donna.

KELLEY: OK, Eileen O'Connor, thanks.

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