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This article was previously published in Bird Breeder magazine and is reprinted here with permission of the author.
copyright: Laurella Desborough  all rights reserved by the author.

What is Organic Agriculture?
by Laurella Desborough

Most of us have an idea that foodstuffs grown under the title of organic means that they have been produced without the use of pesticides or other chemicals—period. That is also what the majority of small organic farms in the United States also understand it to mean. Those of us who have concerns for our birds' good health often prefer to use foodstuffs that we believe to be organically produced. The organic farmers have created a comprehensive and rigorous set of organic regulations to ensure that produce labeled "organic" is truly so.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has published a National Organic Program proposal which would supersede the 33 private and 11 state organic certification agencies, each with its own standards. Properly written and enforced national standards would be beneficial to both growers and consumers. However, the organic farmers are very concerned with this USDA proposal because it apparently waters down the basic tenets and philosophy of the organic food movement. (This movement started in the '60s as a response to the proliferating chemical use in agriculture. At present, it is reported to be a $3.5 billion industry, with 20-percent growth per year.)

According to organic farmers, the USDA proposal would change the definition of organic to mean "almost organic" or "kind of organic." The proposal allows sewer sludge (Section 205.22), irridation (Section 205.17), and genetic engineering (Section 205.8) to be acceptable as a part of organic agriculture. Outraged growers and consumer advocates are speaking out against the inclusion within the definition of organic of chemically treated seeds and seedlings, botanical pesticides, antibiotics and some hormones for livestock, restricted space for livestock (i.e., factory farming techniques), and the negation of traditional buffer zones around organic fields to reduce pesticide drift from neighboring conventional fields.

These are just a few of the concerns around this USDA proposal. Organic growers believe that this USDA proposal guts organic agriculture and removes the right of consumers to know that the label "organically grown" means just what it says. For bird breeders who want to avoid the use of produce with pesticides, this is an issue of concern. For further information from the organic farmers, contact Jeanette Marie Pontacq via fax at (415) 663-1863 or e-mail at Comments can be submitted to the USDA by fax at (202) 690-4632 or by regular mail to Eileen Stommes, Deputy Administrator, AMS, USDA, Room 4007-S, Ag Stop 0275, P. O. Box 96456, Washington, D.C. 20090-6456. With written comments, be sure to refer to Docket # TMD-94-00-2. The deadline for written comments to the USDA is May 1, 1998.