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A growing minority of people are producing and consuming organic foods. We are doing so because we are concerned about our health and the environment.

I was pleased when I heard that a national standard for"organic food" was going to be established. However, the proposal is inadequate and would do more harm than good.

Most organic producers and consumers would reject food that is grown in toxic sludge, genetically engineered or treated with radiation. Unfortunately, this is what the proposed regulations allow. I'm amazed that the government allows people to sell such products, much less call them organic food.

Sludge from sewage-treatment plants is nothing like composted manure. It is a gray emulsion of household chemicals, human and industrial waste, typically including industrial chemicals, chlorinated pesticides, heavy metals and harmful microbes. In 1992, the Environmental Protection Agency allowed this material to be applied as fertilizer by changing its designation from toxic waste to A-1 fertilizer.

Since its introduction, some farmers and farm animals have suffered health problems where sludge has been applied. In Islip, residents living near a sludge-composting site complained of chronic coughing, nausea and other health problems.

Genetically engineered plants pose other threats. Some manufacturers are engineering plants that are resistant to the type of chemicals organic consumers and farmers are trying to avoid. Others are creating plants that produce their own pesticides, some of which can cause serious health problems.

Engineered plants could make the natural pesticides (used in moderation by today's organic farmers) so common that they will become ineffective.

Radiation should not be used as a common food preservative. If it is, it will necessitate large concentrations of radioactivity everywhere food is processed. Regular shipments of radioactive material will be shipped across the country, greatly increasing the probability for nuclear accidents. No one can guarantee that our food will never be radioactively contaminated and then consumed.

The same people who can't keep our food clean enough to prevent disease should not be in charge of radioactive agents that could harm people for countless generations to come.


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