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Wednesday, January 08, 2003

New organic labelling standards in the US may, ironically, be forcing small organic farmers out of the market.

The US Department of Agriculture's organic food seal was finally introduced in October 2002 - after 12 years in the pipeline - and celebrated at farms and restaurants across the US.

While the labelling is a positive step for consumers and is expected to generate further interest in organic products, the paperwork and costs of complying with federal standards may be discouraging the smaller organic farmers from applying for certification.

The problem is that small organic farmers typically grow dozens of crops on small plots, each requiring a separate swathe of paperwork to acquire the new organic seal. For some farmers, the burden of paperwork may simply be too great. The irony is that the certification requirements may favour large organic farms which grow one crop on hundreds of acres, against the original organic farming philosophy.

The success of the organic farming movement has, in some ways, also been its undoing. Growth in the organic market has encouraged bigger players and has resulted in produce that used to be sold locally being transported over longer distances to be sold in supermarkets, with associated environmental costs. In the UK, most organic produce is still imported; while in the US, organic grain producers may be threatened by imports from China, if the Chinese producers' recent application for US organic certification is successful.