Public Seeks Assurances that USDA’s Proposed Organic Rule Not Misleading; Widespread Concern that Organic Labeling Will Discriminate Against Conventional Farming Practices Including Agricultural Biotechnology

Thousands of consumers, farmers, scientists, academics and legislators responded during the comment period on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposed organic rule asking the department to ensure that final regulations not mislead consumers into believing organic foods are safer and more nutritious than other foods and to make sure that the proposals did not misinform consumers about agricultural biotechnology.

A poll conducted by International Communications Research of Media, Pennsylvania on behalf of the National Center For Public Policy Research in May found that the USDA proposed rules for labeling organic food products will seriously mislead consumers into thinking the products are safer, better in quality or more nutritious. The survey showed that 68 percent of respondents would interpret a product labeled "USDA Certified Organic" to be safer to eat than non-organic foods, 67 percent thought organically-labeled foods would be better than non-organic foods, and 62 percent believed organically-labeled foods would be healthier for consumers than non-organic foods. USDA Secretary Dan Glickman, in announcing the proposed rules, stated that the USDA organic certification does not mean food labeled organic is "superior, safer or more healthy than conventional food."

The comment period on the organic rule, which extended from early March until June 12th, attracted a record number of comments.

"The incredible number and subject of the comments demonstrates clearly that the American people want to be sure they are getting a straight-forward regulatory regime for organic foods, one that doesn’t exaggerate the benefits of organic foods or discriminate against other forms of farming," said John Carlisle, director of the Environmental Policy Task Force at the National Center for Public Policy Research.

Many of the comments received by USDA raised concern over the future treatment of biotechnology crops under the proposed rulemaking. Farmers and consumer groups wrote that they perceived a bias in the language that excluded biotech foods in the draft regulations and that standards governing one farming method should not discriminate against another method. Respondents wanted assurances from the agency that the regulations would not discriminate against conventional practices, including agricultural biotechnology.

According to Carlisle, "If we want to feed a world population that could double in 50 years, and do this with a process that sustains our environment and protects our health, then we should heed the many thousands of comments received by USDA that make it clear that people support agricultural biotechnology."

The Environmental Policy Task Force is a project of The National Center For Public Policy Research, a non-partisan, non-profit education foundation. To obtain a copy of the poll or to interview scientific experts, contact John Carlisle at The National Center For Public Policy Research at 202-507-6398 or [email protected].

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.