Feds Now Firm on What's Organic

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While we still aren't quite set on what organic food actually is— most states have their own definitions; 19 don't have any rules at all — the U.S. Agriculture Department finally knows what it isn't: Anything that's been genetically modified, irradiated or grown in the sewage sludge that is sometimes used as fertilizer. Mostly, anyway. Raw, straight-off-the-turnip-truck foods have to be 100 percent "organic" to get the designation; processed foods can be as little as 50 percent organic and still receive a "made with organic ingredients" label. The decision comes two years after bushels of protest letters flooded the farm bureaucracy when it at first proposed allowing foods with any of those three elements to be known as organic, and is welcome news to farmers looking to survive in the increasingly important ($6 billion last year and growing) organic foods market.

It's also an admission of defeat for the U.S. in its ongoing tussle with the E.U. over genetically modified and irradiated foods. U.S. farmers wanting to crack that market are having a tough time getting GM crops past the E.U. borders; now products certified in the U.S. as organic will pass muster. And while this is certainly not the end of the line for GM products like Monsanto's BT corn (pest-resistant crops are just too useful), U.S. consumers may be ready to cut back on their portions.