With varying degrees of enthusiasm, food processing companies and trade groups are applauding the national organic foods standards that go into effect this month, three years after the USDA first proposed rules to implement the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.

Producers, distributors and processors of organic food products cheered the standard, noting it will resolve the current chaotic situation created by more than 40 organic certification agencies and should boost exports of U.S. organic products. "We have had a lot of problems because of the lack of reciprocity between certifiers, and now they have to accept each other's certifications," according to Kim Burton of Smucker Quality Beverages, Chico, Calif., and a member of USDA's National Organic Standards Board. "For processors, that's the most important part of the new standards rule."

"Most of the organic trade is in-bound from South America, China and other developing countries," adds Ron Lautrop, national commodities manager for organic foods distributor United Natural Foods, Dayville, Conn. "Domestic companies had a great deal of difficulty getting organics into strict European countries and Japan. This gives them the paper trail they need to gain sales overseas."

Compliance with labeling and certification requirements will be phased in over the next 18 months, and processors cannot begin affixing the organic seal until August 2002.

While the National Food Processors Association endorsed the final rule, the group decried the exclusion of genetic engineering and ionizing radiation in organic products, Smucker's Burton pointed out the inclusion of GMOs in 1997's proposed standards set off a firestorm of protests that accounted for the bulk of the 275,603 public comments to that rule. "We've been doing organics all along without GMOs, and none of the certifiers were allowing it," she points out.