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Questions arise over organic rules

Concerns over chemicals continue

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Several groups that successfully pushed the Department of Agriculture to drop new guidelines allowing pesticides and antibiotics in organic farming are questioning whether the rules remain in place.

"We are very concerned about the status of the directives that were withdrawn by the USDA," Joe Mendelsohn III, Legal Director of The Center for Food Safety, said in a conference.

Efforts to find out what the USDA is telling its certifiers have been met by a "stonewall" by the department, he said.

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Urvashi Rangan, a scientist at Consumers Union in Yonkers, N.Y., said that the USDA has not answered its questions about whether antibiotics or pesticides can be used in food labeled organic.

"Our position is we're very unclear whether they have rescinded the guidelines," she said.

Rangan urged consumers who want to buy organic milk, for example, to look for labels that ensure no antibiotics are being used.

"We have told the Organic Standards Board when we talked to them that we would work with them on these issues," said A.J. Yates, administrator of the USDA's Agriculture Marketing Service, which oversees the government's National Organic Program.

"We want this program to work. Organic farming is of the fastest growing sectors in agriculture. We want to clarify the issues they have concerns about."

The organic food industry has sales of about $10.8 billion a year.

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