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By John Pawlak

Dear Editor,

More and more people are willing to spend a little extra for a single word: organic. The organic industry in the US is growing at a rate of 20 percent per year, sized now at more than $20 billion in consumer sales per year.So what does “organic” really mean? The USDA mandates that products called “100 percent organic” must contain all organic ingredients. Up to 5 percent non-organic ingredients (by weight) may be included, but only those included on the USDA’s “approved list.” And until mid-2007, there were only five ingredients on the list: cornstarch, water-extracted gum, kelp, unbleached lecithin and pectin.Enter the Bush administration. Last year, they added 38 (!) non-organic ingredients to the approved list: 19 food colorings, various starches, sausage casings (from animals raised on hormones and chemically grown feed), hops, fish oils (taste those PCBs and mercury!), chipotle chili pepper, gelatins, celery powder, dill weed oil, frozen lemon grass and a sweetener called fructooligosaccharide. Gelatin and fish oil might sound innocuous to most, but as we’ve recently learned from dog food and toothpaste, it’s hard to know what an ingredient really is. And adding up to 5 percent artificial food colorings by weight should cause concern for even the most conservative critic.But the ingredient that caught my eye was fructooligosaccharide. Yes, this is a real word. I’m not clever enough to make up an eight-syllable word like that. Fructooligosaccharides are non-digestible carbohydrates or sugars that occur naturally in various plants. Fructooligosaccharides pass through the digestive system virtually unchanged and hence do not have any calorie content. And of course, since they are natural, there’s no cause for worry, right?Wrong. Who is the leading manufacturer of fructooligosaccharides and fish oil? And of gelatin and sausage casings? Can I have the drum roll please? Yes, it’s our favorite provider of questionable ingredients: China! And thanks to the Bush administration, organic products do not have to specify all the ingredients, nor where they come from.The processes by which China manufactures fructooligosaccharides, fish oils, gelatin and sausage casings are, to say the least, not very appetizing. So the next time you buy organic, look for that union label! Uh, I mean, look for fructooligosaccharide.John PawlakLos Alamos