Health-conscious shoppers can confidently buy organic products with new federal labeling rules instated Oct. 21.

Consumers don’t have to take producers’ word for it anymore. The Department of Agriculture’s new labeling assures buyers that food labeled “organic” really is.

“For more than 12 years organic farmers, environmental groups, chefs and food executives have lobbied for the seal, one of those cases where an industry—or at least part of one—has urged the government to impose regulations,” the New York Times reported.

In a statement by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson wrote that “increased consumer confidence should lead to greatly increased consumption of organic foods—and a bright outlook for growers, processors, and marketers of those foods.”

Jacobson said that because organic farming is the “soundest, most-sustainable type of farming, the bigger winner here might be the planet Earth.”

But just because foods are labeled organic doesn’t mean some aren’t loaded with fat and sugar, Jacobson said. “At least, though, organic produce is likely to contain lower levels of pesticide residues, and organic meat and poultry will have been raised without hormones or antibiotics,” he said.

However, Andrew Kimball, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, said he fears the paperwork and costs of complying with federal standards might discourage the smallest farmers from applying for certification.

Organic food has become a $4 billion industry, and Kimball told the Times that there is concern that large food companies and farmers will take over the majority of the organic market, pushing out the small farmers.

Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman told the Times she hoped the new labeling would increase sales of organic food. But until mainstream consumers buy into the organic industry, the number of organic farms will remain small.

The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization, provides information on its Web site about the chemicals found on conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.

“Organic agriculture is a viable option for small farms and is likely to remain so,” EWG reported on its site. “But for consumers concerned about health and the environment, it is essential that organic agriculture expand beyond its current share of the food supply and the agricultural landscape—less than 1 percent.”

Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.

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