a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA)
Transcripts: 506-1 to 506-3
Week: 506.1 Guest: Katherine DiMatteo Topic: Organic Food - Part One Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham
ROEDER: This is a three part series on organic food and assuring its quality. My guest is Katherine DiMatteo from the Organic Trade Association.
NEMA: Ms. DiMatteo, would you define the term organic food?
DiMATTEO: Yes. Organic food is food grown according to a production system that's regulated according to federal and state laws. It regulates what types of materials can be used to fertilize or to handle pest or weed problems that you might have on the farm. It also identifies food that is processed according to production methods that don't add highly toxic or residual additives or preservatives to the food.
NEMA: Well, there are so many labels on food nowadays like low fat, fat free, all natural, organic, the average consumer is faced with some very confusing messages about the content of what they are buying. Is there a universally agreed upon meaning among producers about the term organic?
DiMATTEO: Yes there is. Organic has been a production method for many years but in the last 10 or 15, it has become quite organized and the rules and regulations or standards, as many people call them, for organic production have been written down and agreed upon not only within the organic community but by federal and state regulators so there is really a clear procedural method in terms of how to farm and then how to process a food that will eventually be labeled organic. In a survey that the Organic Trade Association did two years ago, we compared the standards that existed in the United States at the time for organic production and found that 95% of them were identical and that the 5% variance in those standards had to do with regional considerations in terms of soil and water and topography and those kinds of things. The federal law which was written in 1990 tried to take what was already the common factors and write that into regulation.
NEMA: When was your organization established?
DiMATTEO: 1985 and it was established by a diverse group of people, not only farmers but certification, organizations and manufacturers and processors and handlers also.
NEMA: Now when you said that this was regulated not just within the trade organization but also in regulatory agencies, I assume you were talking of what level - state or federal? At what level does that take place?
DiMATTEO: All right. It takes place at both levels although the federal level has not yet been implemented. In 1990 a law was passed called the Organic Foods Production Act and during the past five years, an advisory board to the federal government has been writing recommendations about how to enforce or how to implement that law. They have finished that task and we expect this year, 1996, this law will be implemented. So on the federal level, there's a law, there's a program being put in place so that there will be federal enforcement.
NEMA: Join me for part two on organic food with Katherine DiMatteo.
Week: 506.2 Guest: Katherine DiMatteo Topic: Organic Food - Part Two Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham
NEMA: This is part two in a three part series on organic food. My guest is Katherine DiMatteo from the Organic Trade Association. I asked Ms. DiMatteo about the new organic certification laws.
DiMATTEO: We expect that during this year, 1996, this law will be implemented so on the federal level, there's a law, there's a program being put in place so that there will be federal enforcement. On the state level, there are many states that have state programs that require organic labels to meet certain standards.
NEMA: I can't imagine anything easier for an unscrupulous food producer or retailer than to purchase less expensive non-organically produced food and marketing it as if it was organic and making a great profit. What can a consumer do to try to protect themselves from such practices?
DiMATTEO: I would advise anybody who is buying an organic product to buy it from a grocer or a store that they felt confidence in, that they could go and ask where fresh produce, for instance, was purchased and on all products, both fresh and processed products that are labeled organic, they should look for either language or a symbol or a seal that says "certified by" and then sometimes it's a state agency and sometimes it's a private certification organization and those private and state programs are a consumers best guarantee now that the farm and the processor has gone through a rigid inspection and verification system.
NEMA: Have organic food producers and organizations such as yours received support or resistance from the rest of the agricultural and food production industry?
DiMATTEO: I think there's been a little bit of both. The organic part of the food industry is still very small and is not apparently very threatening at this point so there hasn't been organized resistance or opposition to organic producers although there are frequently individuals who write that it's a production system that could not feed the world and would be dangerous if everyone switched. But basically many of the large farms and a lot of the large food companies are looking at organic as a diversification in their businesses so that they might have both traditionally grown foods and organically produced foods under the same company labels.
NEMA: For reasons of storage and pest control just to name a couple of obvious challenges you would have, organic food justifiably is going to be more difficult to produce and store and transport and hence more expensive but also you obviously produce a lower volume. That must make competitive pricing more difficult. Is that true if that's so and if so, do you foresee the day when greater use of organic produce could help bring the price down?
DiMATTEO: Let's see. Yes and yes I guess are the answers to that. Currently the cost of chemical or synthetic controls is rising so the additional costs and the production ends may even out.
NEMA: Join me for part three on organic food with Katherine DiMatteo.
Week: 506.3 Guest: Katherine DiMatteo Topic: Organic Food - Part Three Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham
NEMA: This is part three in a three part series on organic food. My guest is Katherine DiMatteo from the Organic Trade Association.
DiMATTEO: In terms of environmental protection and maintenance and improvement, we have many many ways to say and prove that organic has really been beneficial and is one of the things that will help us have soil that can produce food for us for many years.
NEMA: Talk about the new organic food regulations that are due to go into effect and will they give a more universally recognizable uniformity to the consumer?
DiMATTEO: Yes they will. Federal law will require that all products labeled as organic will have to be grown according to these federal standards and they will have to be certified by a third party certifier and those certifiers who are doing that work will have to be approved by the federal government so they will go through a process of inspection and approval and then they in turn then will inspect and approve both farm production and processing production of organic foods that will carry an organic label. And then if a consumer has a question about a product at any point in time, they could track down through the government who certified the product and if it does follow the regulations.
NEMA: Give a few tips on how to assure right now, especially before the new laws go into effect, to assure that people are getting what they are paying for and some tips on finding the best organic foods, where to find them, where not to find them, that kind of thing.
DiMATTEO: Okay. I would advise a consumer to look for a label or an identification on a label of a certification organization or a state program that has verified that the product has been organically produced. On fresh produce, many of the stores will say that this is certified organic and if they do have that on the label above a produce stand or on a sticker on a piece of fruit or a vegetable, if it doesn't say the name of the certifier you should be able to ask and that would be one of the tips that I would say to a consumer in terms of choosing where to buy is to shop where you can get answers to the questions that you have, that you get cooperation from produce managers or grocery managers about the questions you have about certified organic products and who certifies the product, where did they buy the product from. I would also advise people in season to purchase from their local farmers markets and farm stands of organic producers or to think about joining a community supported agricultural product where they would invest in a farm and then have each week bundles of food delivered to them during the growing season. Otherwise look for a reputable retail store that is knowledgeable about organic production.
NEMA: Are you optimistic that ten years from now the average grocery store will have at least a very good selection of organic produce in it?
DiMATTEO: Yes. We've already seen that just in the last two years and in some of the surveys that are being done of regular grocery stores or mass market grocery stores, they believe that organic is a trend that's going to grow.