After a decade of debate, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released final standards for labeling organic foods last month, siding with environmentalists and the organic farming industry on nearly every contentious issue. The standards, which will become fully effective in 2002, ban the use of irradiation, biotechnology, and sewer-sludge fertilizer for any food labeled organic. All three methods would have been allowed under the standards proposed by the USDA in 1997, but the department did an about-face after receiving nearly 300,000 public comments protesting their inclusion. The final standards also ban the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers in growing organic foods, and the use of antibiotics in organic meats. Sales of organic foods in the U.S. have increased by 20 percent each year since 1990, reaching $6 billion in 1999.

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