Organic labeling issues crop up - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Organic labeling issues crop up

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There's a war of words brewing between local farmers. The beef isn't with each other though, it's over the term 'organic' and consumer confusion.
Every weekend, Greg Cox of Boardman Hill Farm offers a range of products at the Rutland Farmers' Market. "I'm as organic as it can get," he said.

Cox uses organic techniques for everything he grows and makes, but not everything can be labeled 'organic'. That's because his hot sauce doesn't have the necessary certification.

He says some -- accidentally or intentionally -- skirt the U.S.D.A. rules regarding the term. Others have found a way to create the same connotation for consumers. "They started calling it 'beyond organic', 'all-natural', they muddied the waters, the consumers don't know what any of that means," he said.

On Friday, those who handle 'organic' certifications told legislators many farmers and customers don't know the label is federally regulated. Spokespeople for Vermont Organic Farmers said they're committed to dealing with the problem. "We're also committed to trying to determine exactly how pervasive the issue is," said Nicole Dehne.

Farmer and State Sen. David Zuckerman (P-Chittenden Co.) says much of the confusion stems from the fact that farms can offer organic and non-organic products without distinguishing between them. He's considering proposing legislation in the future to offer more clarity.

Kara Fitzgerald of Evening Song Farm says she doesn't follow organic methods, but argues her techniques may be healthier and better for the soil. She says chemicals deemed organic one year can be banned the next. Instead she follows a bio-dynamic approach which bars the use of any artificial chemicals.

Fitzgerald says she's careful not to use the term organic, and adds that she makes sure to explain the distinction.

"I don't have that 3rd party looking over me, so that's why I don't use ('organic')," she said, "what I say to customers is ,'there's conventional agriculture, then there's organic, and then there's bio-dynamic agriculture'."

Farmers who spoke with WCAX Saturday at the Rutland Farmers' Market say they support the labeling laws. Sticky problems may persist, but they say solutions will become apparent as long as the conversation continues.

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