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Bill to close 'organic' chicken loophole advances

(Monday, April 7, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Jeff Nesmith, Cox News: WASHINGTON. An amendment to reverse a law that would allow a Georgia chicken processor to sell its brand of poultry as organic, even if birds are fed inorganic feed, is on its way to a House-Senate conference committee.

The amendment, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and 52 co-sponsors, would repeal a measure designed to benefit Fieldale Farms, a north Georgia poultry processor. The measure was attached as a "rider" to an appropriations bill by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., early this year as a favor to its prime author, Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., and was signed into law.

"The swift and strong ground swell of opposition to that rider has been an eye-opener for many in Washington," Leahy said after the Senate voted late Thursday to attach his amendment to an emergency bill providing money for the war in Iraq and the Department of Homeland Security. Leahy said consumers "want the organic label to mean what it says."

The Senate funding bill passed late Thursday with Leahy's amendment attached. The Senate bill and a House version, which does not contain the repeal language, now go to a conference committee so that differences can be reconciled.

Leahy also is the prime author of a separate bill containing identical language as the amendment. It has 68 co-sponsors.

A repeal measure introduced in the House has "over 100 co-sponsors," according to a spokesperson for its prime author, Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif.

Although Deal's rider does not refer specifically to Fieldale, he acknowledged that it was designed to allow Fieldale to display the U.S. Department of Agriculture "organic" seal on its Springer Mountain Farms chickens. The company claims it cannot get organic corn for the birds.

The measure would become effective only if a Department of Agriculture study now under way shows that the cost of organic feed grain is at least twice that of non-organic grain.

Jeff Nesmith's e-mail address is jeffn(at)coxnews.com