The USDA's National Organic Rule expected to be announced on October 21, 2002 will most likely confuse consumers and may not increase organic food consumption, food experts believe.

There are four new organic categories: "100% organic;" "Organic," defined by the USDA as containing 95% of organic ingredients; "Made with organic," that include products with at least 70% organic ingredients; and products with less than 70% organic ingredients are only allowed to list the organic items in the ingredient panel on the side of the package.

Officials from the USDA will announce the new labeling guidelines and introduce a new USDA logo that will help shoppers identify those foods that have been grown, processed and packaged in accordance with organic practices. Products with a minimum of 95% organic ingredients will be allowed to use the seal.

But in a statement today Philip Lempert, the publisher of the trends publication The Lempert Report, and food trends editor for NBC News' Today Show said he viewed these categories as a hurdle in educating consumers and increasing organic consumption. "After 10 years of discussions and lobbying to create these guidelines, this is only the first step," said Lempert. "For these rules to make a difference, manufacturers and retailers need to seize this opportunity to provide information and educate consumers about the benefits of organics."

According to Lempert, polls show that consumers already are confused about organic foods and beverages. For example, in a recent poll when asked the difference between natural and organic foods, 57% responded that organic is a legal term while natural isn't and 23% said it's whatever the manufacturer wants to put on the label.

And, 56% of those polled say they consume organic products because it's healthier, 23% because of a better quality and 7% for other reasons. "The reality is that organics by itself aren't any healthier," says Lempert. "Most shoppers don't understand the benefit of organics is these foods cannot contain any pesticides or genetically modified organisms."

In August of 2002, an ACNielsen Consumer Pre*View poll revealed that organic food buyers are extremely loyal to the category and intend to keep buying, but non-buyers have virtually no interest in organic products.

The study found that, one-third of consumers who have purchased organic foods or beverages in the past six months, 85% plan to continue purchasing organics. However, among non buyers, only 3% plan to buy such products in the next six months.