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WASHINGTON - Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman on Wednesday sided with organic food companies, farmers and environmental groups by criticizing a measure passed by Congress which would allow farmers who feed animals conventional meal to label the meat organic if reasonably priced organic grain isn't available.
Veneman said the measure included in the massive spending bill President Bush signed last week "could weaken the national organic program," The Associated Press reports.
To use the new organic labels, food must be grown by a certified farmer who does not use conventional pesticides and fertilizers, biotechnology, antibiotics or growth hormones. The standards were adopted last year after a dozen years of discussions between department officials and the organic foods industry.
"It is important to maintain a strong organic program that ensures the integrity of the organic label placed on consumer products," Veneman said in a statement. "The best way to do that is by maintaining the organic standards as we implemented them in October 2002."
Complaints also have come from groups ranging from chicken grower Tyson Foods Inc. to activists with the Environmental Working Group.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is asking to repeal the language tucked by Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., into the $397 billion government-wide spending bill.
Deal sought the measure on behalf of Fieldale Farms Corp. in Baldwin, Ga., after it complained it couldn't find enough organic grain for producing organic chickens.
Tomas Hensley, VP of Fieldale Farms, said his company will lobby against Leahy's bill, according to the AP.