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Proposed Sulfite Amendment Weakens Organic Standards

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This article was written by Alexis Baden-Mayer, Organic Consumers Association's Political Director. Take action to keep synthetic sulfites out of organic wine: Consumer Alert: Organic Wine Standards Under Attack.

The USDA organic standards exist to ensure consumers that the food and agricultural products they are purchasing have been produced without synthetic additives, pesticides or chemicals. A new proposed amendment to the organic regulations by Organic Vintners, a wine importer and retailer, seeks to weaken the USDA organic wine standards and allow the use of synthetically produced sulfites in organic wine.

Currently, the US upholds the strictest standards for organic wine in the world. Certified organic wine in the US can have no added sulfites and not more than 10ppm naturally occurring sulfites. Under the proposed amendment, up to 100ppm added sulfites would be allowed in USDA organic wines. This level is 30-100 times higher than normally occurring levels of naturally occurring sulfites (red wines usually have 0ppm and white wines 3-5ppm). This would confuse consumers who have come to expect USDA organic wines with no added sulfites.

Sulfites first came to public attention in 1988, when the World Health Organization required labeling of sulfites after a series of severe allergic reactions and deaths resulting from exposure to sulfites. Since that time, sulfite labeling on all food products sold in the United States is mandatory.

The importance of maintaining strict organic standards for wine under the USDA National Organic Program is underscored by recent controversy in Europe over the adoption of European Organic wine making Standards. In June 2010, the EU Commission for agriculture and rural development withdrew proposals for new regulations on organic wine due to debate about a limit for sulfites in wine. It seems that lobbying efforts aimed at allowing synthetics into organic wine are occurring all over the world. The US must uphold its standards to maintain the highest standard for organic wine and remain a world leader in the field.

Organic certification should be reserved for products that are made without the use of synthetics, as defined by the USDA. Upholding the integrity of the USDA organic standards supports producers who have taken the care to develop products that are truly organic, and allows consumers to choose with confidence.

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