As I mentioned in a previous post, the term ‘organic’ is under strict government regulation.
In the United States, food producers must receive certification before they can go about adding ‘organic’ to their label. This is disadvantageous to small (independent) farms, as the process costs more than the label will bring back in revenue. The odds are that several stalls at your local farmer’s market are occupied by farmers who more or less produce organic food without being able to call it that.
You will also see different terms associated with “organic”, and they mean different things.
- 100% organic: A product that really does have all-organic ingredients.
- Organic: Products have 95% or more organic ingredients.
- Contains organic ingredients: 70% of more organic.
If you’ve ever seen that USDA Organic sticker before, it’s on products that qualify in the 95% or greater category.
So what about products that are less than 70% organic? They can say what exactly is organic in their packaging description, but that’s it. The fine for mis-representing organic origin currently sits at $11,000.
While regulation helps ensure that labeling is honest and consistent, it does carry some disadvantages. Notably, there is a growing concern that policy-makers will re-write the “organic” guidelines in a way that cowtows to lobbying interests. Even more odd products could slip through the cracks. Additionally, any change that makes certification more difficult will be one that favors large, industrial producers. That’s not necessarily a more sustainable future than we face now.