To the editors:
Harold Henderson must be drinking too much milk with genetically engineered bovine growth hormone. Maybe that's the reason he wrote such a sensational cover story slamming the integrity of organic food. I agree that in April the bureaucrats at the USDA screwed up by once again trying to loosen organic standards. Yet after intense national media scrutiny and strong political pressure, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman rescinded these changes. This is the second time in a year that an outraged community of organic farmers and consumers has forced the USDA to withdraw proposed changes that would have diminished organic regulations.
The problem with the article was that it implied that all organic food now is being tainted by these proposed changes. This is incorrect and damaging to thousands of farmers who grow organic food the right way. The fact is that most organic farmers adhere to standards that are tougher than those put forth by the USDA's National Organic Program. They care deeply about the quality of the food they produce and vehemently disagree with attempts by the USDA to water down the definition of organic.
There are many reasons that people pay a premium for organic food. Crops are not genetically engineered, irradiated, or sprayed with synthetic pesticides, animals can't be treated with antibiotics or growth hormones, and most importantly organic farming supports thousands of family farmers who are growing food with integrity. Unfortunately, by reading your cover story people may feel that organic is not worth the extra investment and purchase conventional food. By doing so, it will most likely hurt the small producers who are doing the right thing.
Mr. Henderson was correct on one point. It's a shame that the organic community has to continually scrutinize actions by the USDA concerning organic food regulations. In a perfect world the National Organic Program would recognize that an industry with annual growth exceeding 20 percent a year for the past 20 years is worth protecting and nurturing. Fortunately millions of organic loyalists will continue our vigilance and make sure that the feds don't screw anything up. It's worth it.
Harold Henderson replies:
The offending USDA directives were taken off the Web site after the uproar, but according to National Organic Standards Board vice chairman James Riddle, they remain USDA policy. Thus organic consumers who are not personally acquainted with their farmer supplier cannot be sure that any particular USDA certified organic food actually meets the higher standards most organic farmers and consumers endorse.