Q: What is happening with regard to food safety in light of the recent outbreaks?
A: OTA has recently convened a Food Safety Legislation Task Force to review various pieces of federal legislation, and is in close contact with Congressional staff. The task force is considering both on-farm and handling practices, and OTA will prepare information for use as Congress moves forward on food safety legislation, which could come as early as the fall.
Q: What are the top issues in organics right now?
A: 1) Increasing the supply of raw materials through conversion to organic production.
2) Implementing the provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill to ensure the organic system enjoys the same administrative support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as nonorganic agriculture does.
3) Fostering international equivalency agreements or recognition agreements where equivalency is not possible.
4) Ensuring Canada's smooth transition to its new organic regulation.
5) Conducting outreach and public education about buying organic products.
6) Maintaining the position of organic agriculture as the gold standard of agricultural production and handling through continual improvement as more nonorganic agriculture and food businesses also improve their practices.
Q: Walmart sources a lot of organics from China. What are the concerns about standards?
A: All product sold as organic in the United States must meet USDA National Organic Program standards. OTA has long advocated for, and recently won in the 2008 Farm Bill, additional resources for USDA to strengthen its international certifier accreditation program, which includes the same provisions for inspection as it does domestically.
Q: What are the issues and challenges that have to be overcome to create a government standard of personal care?
A: The major challenge is establishing USDA NOP jurisdiction over the organic claim for cosmetics and soaps, currently held by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Beyond that, there are several competing private standards in use in the United States and internationally, each of which treats various issues differently. OTA called for a National Organic Standards Board Task Force at the May NOSB meeting to bring together stakeholders that represent the various perspectives.
Q: Is there new research on organics that OTA finds particularly interesting?
A: Among the most compelling and pertinent studies today are those showing that organic practices can help alleviate problems related to global warming, help protect soil and wildlife and offer the most hope to developing nations, raising yields, improving the soil and boosting the income of small farmers. Also, studies by scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have shown that organic crop rotations have similar yields to their conventional counterparts.
Meanwhile, although the jury is still out on a definitive answer, there is mounting evidence that organic crops often offer more nutrients [than conventional]. A report jointly produced by The Organic Center and professors from the University of Florida Department of Horticulture and Washington State University provides evidence that organic foods contain, on average, 25 percent higher concentration of 11 nutrients than their conventional counterparts. The report was based on estimated differences in nutrient levels across 236 comparisons of organically and conventionally grown foods. In addition, researchers studying cultivation practices for high-bush blueberries in New Jersey have found that blueberry fruit grown organically yielded significantly higher fructose and glucose levels, malic acid, total phenolics, total anthocyanins and antioxidant activity than fruit grown using conventional methods. Even more recently, a new study from Germany shows that organically produced apples have a 15 percent higher antioxidant capacity than conventionally produced apples.
For more organics research from 2008, go to ota.com/pics/documents/WhatsNews42.pdf.