Today marks a milestone in American farming. The Agriculture Department introduces a set of standards that define what the word "organic" means and which growers and products are qualified to use it. While most Americans tend to think of organic food as somehow healthier for themselves and their children, there is no hard evidence to support that. The real value of organic farming is its impact on our soil and water and livestock, on the very idea of farming itself. For that alone, it deserves our support.
Until now, foods and farms have been certified as organic by various states and organizations. What begins today is a national program representing the best standards in organic farming created by the organic farming community.
It took the U.S.D.A. a while to get the regulations right. But nearly every effort to adulterate the purity of the standards was blocked by an outpouring of public comment. What remains is the single best guarantee Americans have that what is being sold as "organic" -- bearing the new U.S.D.A.-Organic seal -- is just what it says. ...
The introduction of these new organic standards is the beginning of the story, rather than the end of it. The standards will have to be protected against attempts to weaken them. Perhaps the biggest challenge is discerning the impact of these standards on organic farmers themselves. To some, the idea of federal standards is the antithesis of the spirit of organic farming. For most, however, it's a welcome opportunity to reach a broader public. There are still concerns over scale, too, as more and more small organic food companies are being bought up by the big players, like General Mills. Nonetheless, this is a new day for organic farming and a welcome one.
Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf has become a casualty of his own artifice. In his effort to neutralize his strongest political adversaries ahead of the election held earlier this month, he bolstered the power of Pakistan's most volatile political players -- religious fundamentalists. The power that fundamentalists have gained in the election is without precedent in Pakistan, and will probably effect U.S. efforts to ferret out al Qaeda terrorists along the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. ...
Some observers have interpreted the surge of fundamentalists in Pakistan as proof that democracy in that country runs counter to U.S. interests. But Gen. Musharraf's fumbling with the process strengthened, to some degree, the hand of fundamentalists. U.S. troops will undoubtedly face new challenges along the border.
Pakistan has spent more than half the time since its founding being governed by generals -- and though President Pervez Musharraf says otherwise, military rule is going to continue for the foreseeable future. Parliamentary elections were held Oct. 10, but most people stayed away from the polls, perhaps because they regarded the whole exercise as a fraud.
A fraud it may have been -- but it's one that may still create new problems for Musharraf. Apparently believing his own claim to have the support of the Pakistani people, the general expected voters to deliver a friendly parliament. But though a party sympathetic to Musharraf won the most seats, it fell well short of a majority -- meaning that opposition parties could dominate the proceedings. ...
Under the best of circumstances, Musharraf and the new parliament would have to confront the same huge challenges that have faced Pakistan for half a century -- including poverty, illiteracy, corruption and the absence of the rule of law.
In case of continued failure, both sides will have someone with whom to share the blame. It looks as though there will be plenty to go around.
Dallas Morning News
It is fitting that the United States and Brazil should on Nov. 1 become permanent co-chairs of the negotiations to conclude a Pan-American free-trade agreement by 2005. After all, the United States has the largest economy in North America, and Brazil has the largest economy in South America. More than the 33 other American republics, they will determine the success or failure of the ambitious project.
But the U.S.-Brazilian partnership could become strained because Brazil is on the verge of electing as president a populist labor leader who denounces Pan-American free trade as a U.S. attempt to "annex" Brazil and the rest of Latin America. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the leftist Workers' Party garnered 47 percent of the vote in the first round of Brazil's election on Oct. 6 and is expected to garner the 50 percent that he needs to win outright in the second round on Sunday. No doubt aware of the potential for trouble in Brazil, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick has affirmed that the United States still wants Pan-American free trade, but is "prepared to move step by step toward free trade if others turn back or simply are not yet ready." ...
For better or worse, the United States and Brazil are joined at the hip for the duration of the negotiations -- or until one decides that the partnership is no longer worthwhile. As they go, so may go the noble dream of an entirely prosperous and democratic Americas.
North Korea's acknowledgment that it is making bomb-grade nuclear material in defiance of international agreements requires prompt pressure from its neighbors and the United States. The unapologetic admission appears to be a desperate tactic to extort further economic assistance for the impoverished country. Diplomacy should be used to offer humanitarian aid while gaining assurance of disarmament through means that North Korea has resisted in the past. Pressure also should be put on Pakistan to stop contributing to North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
Surrounded by China, Russia, Japan and South Korea -- where 37,000 U.S. troops are deployed -- North Korea obviously is not preparing to launch a nuclear strike against anyone. Its flouting of the 1994 agreement by admitting that it has secretly developed nuclear weapons and possesses "more powerful weapons" seems instead to be a ploy to obtain more fuel, food and money for its starving people as winter approaches. ...
North Korea has tried in recent months to thaw relations with longtime adversaries. It apologized for a naval battle with South Korea in the Yellow Sea and for the kidnapping of Japanese citizens in the 1970s. Those overtures are hardly moves toward military confrontation. Instead, they indicate that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is impatient and has been courting his new benefactors for speedier help.
Kim's brazen attempt at blackmail should not be rewarded. But neither should it prompt economic sanctions that would bring worse conditions for North Korea's population and greater desperation. Renewal of the 1994 accord and continued humanitarian assistance should be coupled with unconditional inspections to assure North Korea's disarmament of nuclear and any other weapons of mass destruction.
(Compiled by United Press International)