New “sustainable” label may compete with pricey organic label

Tired of paying a premium for organic fruits and veggies? A coalition of farmers, environmentalists, and public officials is promoting an alternative that they say will be less costly: a “sustainable” certification system and label. The system sets standards for water quality, soil management, and wildlife protection, but, in a notable departure from organic farming, it allows use of synthetic pesticides. Still, participating growers are rated on their pesticide practices, and supporters say that Wisconsin russet potato growers certified under the system used 54 percent less toxic chemicals than conventional growers. Folks in the organic farming industry are skeptical about the new label, saying it may confuse consumers. And some retailers have hesitated to add a new type of product to their shelves. But the sustainable scheme’s supporters say the label will appeal to green-minded shoppers who can’t afford to buy organic. “When you explain the concept to the consumer, it is very, very well received,” says one Wisconsin farmer.