NEW BROCHURE COULD BE HEALTHY FOR ORGANICS

BALTIMORE -- Retailers could see a lift in natural/organics sales from a brochure mandated for supermarket distribution.That's because the document may include language advising consumers to buy organics. The first draft is expected to be released in the next few months.The handout is being published in response to the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, which required the Environmental Protection

BALTIMORE -- Retailers could see a lift in natural/organics sales from a brochure mandated for supermarket distribution.

That's because the document may include language advising consumers to buy organics. The first draft is expected to be released in the next few months.

The handout is being published in response to the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, which required the Environmental Protection Agency to publish a pamphlet by August 1998 that explains the risks and benefits of pesticides, identifies any foods on the shelf that do not meet the new standards in terms of pesticide tolerances and tells consumers how to avoid foods with harmful pesticides.

By law, the brochure must be distributed to supermarkets and large retail operations, though the EPA wants it distributed even more broadly. Retailers will be able to decide where the pamphlet will be located in the store.

The leaflet could help drive sales of organic products, Carolyn Brickey, executive director of the National Campaign for Pesticide Policy Reform, Tucson, Ariz., said at the National Products Expo East here.

"The [draft] says that in order to avoid these risks, you should buy organic food whenever possible," Brickey said.

While this language may be in the draft, the final wording for the handout has not been approved yet, according to EPA officials.

The Food Quality Protection Act represented a turning point in how the United States regulates chemicals, since it judges pesticide tolerances in food based on what children can safely endure, which is at a lower threshold than adults, said Brickey. This differs from previous cost/benefit models and uses a "Reasonable Certainty of No Harm" model.

The brochure will be short, balanced and to the point, and will be focused on the areas mandated in the FQPA, according to Charles Franklin, chief of the communications services branch in the Office of Pesticides Prevention and Toxic Substances of the EPA, Washington.

"The two key components are general information about risks and benefits of pesticides and information on how consumers can further reduce pesticide intake," Franklin continued. Franklin gave the example of washing and peeling vegetables. He also said that the brochure will be applicable to all the food in the supermarket.

The EPA has formed a work group -- which consists of government agencies, food industry groups and consumer advocates -- to help draft the brochure. The work group wants the brochure to emphasize the importance of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, though it does not want the message to be alarmist.

Claire Regan, director of scientific affairs at the Grocery Manufacturers of America, Washington, and a member of the working group, noted that it's important for the brochure to be user-friendly, since it's going to distributed at retail.

As far as whether language encouraging people to buy organics would be part of the brochure, she said, "If there's a mandate to tell consumers about what you have to do to reduce dietary exposures, I suppose that [language] would be one of the considerations." "We would be concerned that it not be presented in a manner that makes nonorganic [non-organically grown] foods appear less safe," she continued.

Following the release of the draft brochure there will be a 30- or 60-day public comment period.

In other news, regulations for the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 are expected to come down either later this month or early next month.