Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Organic Labeling Conumdrum

Back in February, I made a brief post about a lawsuit concerning the DEA's standards for labeling food organic. Now the Chicago Tribune (via, which doesn't require registration) takes an in-depth look at how organic blueberry farmer Arthur Harvey's largely successful suit will affect "Big Organic." Harvey argued that "organic" should mean completely organic, while DEA regulations allow products to carry their organic seal if they're 95% organic, and "products with at least 70 percent organic ingredients can advertise that they are made with organic ingredients." The industry prefers the DEA standards, and it looks like well-known companies like Stoneyfield Farm, Annie's Naturals and Newman's Own Organics may have to settle for the less-desirable "made with organic ingredients" label. One consequence of this may be that such companies end up using less organic ingredients:
[Nancy Hirshberg, vice president of natural resources at Stonyfield Farm] said organic yogurt includes small quantities of non-organic inulin, which is made from Jerusalem artichoke root and increases calcium absorption, and synthetic pectin, a thickening agent that is made from fruit peel. Because no organic substitutes exist for either product, she said Stonyfield may be may be forced to label its yogurt as "made with" organic ingredients rather than organic. If that were the case, she said the company probably would only pay for organic milk, which makes up more than 70 percent of the total, and buy non-organic sugar and fruit because they are less expensive.
This is an interesting dilemma. On one hand, I tend to agree with Harvey that the organic seal should mean purely organic. At the same time, does an argument for that level of "purity" (the article actually labels Harvey at one point as a "small, idealistic purist") actually undercut the large-scale growth of organic food products in the US, and thereby limit these products availability and keep them priced high?

BTW, sorry for getting here late today. We had a monster thunderstorm blow through, and the power was out for about 12 hours. That's not the exact reason I was late -- more like, opening a bottle of wine (or two) with Jan and my stepson (who's of age) seemed like the perfect way to spend an evening in the dark...

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