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Beware of ‘Beyond Organic’

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: Environment, green living, organic food, organic farming, organic certification, In Good Tilth, Keith Goetzman,

Organic carrots 

Have you heard the phrase “beyond organic” and wondered what it means? If so, you have sympathizers among some certified organic farmers who believe it confuses consumers. Oregon-based organic farmer Katie Kulla writes for In Good Tilth about “beyond organic” and its effect on farmers like herself who have jumped through all the hoops to become certified:

A growing number of non-certified growers seem to express hostility toward the word “organic” and their inability to legally use it—negativity perhaps best typified by their use of the phrase “beyond organic” to describe their practices. The claim has been increasingly common in media coverage of small farmers as well—perhaps most famously in Michael Pollan’s descriptions of farmer Joel Salatin in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. … 

While some might not think twice about the phrase “beyond organic,” I have been bothered by its use and its significant implications. When my husband and I [proprietors of Oakhill Organics] discuss the organic label with customers today, we hear that many people think organic “doesn’t mean anything anymore,” or that they’re worried the meaning is being diluted, but they’re not sure why. I have to wonder how much of their confusion and cynicism can be attributed to the “beyond organic” phrase and the subsequent criticisms of the USDA organic program that often accompany its use. 

Kulla goes on to deflate some of the myths surrounding organic certification. She convincingly argues that:

  • While organic certification is rigorous and means extra paperwork, it is not terribly onerous and is “ultimately positive.”
  • A trained inspector can spot things that a consumer can’t, even if the consumer is, for example, a member of a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm and can visit and observe the operation.
  • Certification is simply not that expensive, especially when federal reimbursements available to many farmers are taken into account.
  • Certification leaves some decisions up to the government, but the alternative is “an unregulated word usable by anyone as a marketing boost.”
  • Big business may stand accused of inappropriately using the organic label on processed foods, but again, that’s no reason to ditch—or dilute—the label.

Kulla is well aware that she’s treading on sensitive turf, but she stands her ground. “I’m not attempting to start a ‘holier than thou’ argument,” she writes. “Actually, ‘beyond organic’ is quite the ‘holier than thou’ statement in and of itself. It only has meaning in opposition to ‘organic,’ and its use directly comments and passes judgment on other farms.”

Source: In Good Tilth (article not available online)

Image by dyobmit, licensed under Creative Commons. 

mike spencer
7/12/2012 6:17:31 PM

I agree that companies and people need to protect the meaning of Organic. No consumers wants organic products to become less valuable to allow for more profits at the expense of quality. I think that everyone has to be aware that companies are using variations of the word organic in the name of their product to try and fool consumers. I have noticed a newer company with the actual name Beyond Organic but I think most if not all of their products are also certified organic. You can investigate them more at www.beyondorganicwebsite.com/. From what I can find, the founder Jordan Rubin was the previous owner of Garden of Life a supplement company.


sandra mclean
10/28/2011 5:45:59 PM

Good Chat! For so long people, me included, were pushed by a wave and like lemmings just accepted the products and methods of eating that were presented to us. But now thanks to forward thinking companies and individuals we have a choice. Even if we live in the city, we can support , through our buying , the sustainable life and humane treatment of all animals. I am so excited about using the Beyond Organics grocery to feed my family. I think it's a suitable brand name and will be seen as such with no harm to the premiss of the Official "organic labeling". Just my opinion. This video deserves a look - educate yourself http://www.beyondorganicinsider.com/becomeaninsider.aspx?enroller=29030


paul m
7/20/2011 4:31:50 PM

I understand the issue at hand. The word "organic" is losing the public's trust while those in the industry are working their tails off to make organic food available and at competitive pricing. However the "beyond organic" issues mentioned in this article shouldn't be confused with the newest company called "Beyond Organic" its simply the name they chose in order to be used as a logo much like "whole foods" or "xxxxx farms" if you'd like to learn about this new company planning to ship Organic products like organic raw cheese, organic chocolate (with probiotics), and organic, green only fed kosher beef, check it out here: http://trybeyondorganic.com


chris.
3/2/2011 12:37:31 PM

If a woman like Katie Kulla, who plays an active part in growing food, doesn't put the time into understanding what "beyond organic" actually means how can we expect people who buy food, who are one step removed from the growing process (or maybe fifty steps depending on where that food comes from), to understand what it means? To think that those describing themselves as beyond organic are doing so simply because they haven't been certified by the USDA and are angry about it is absurd. Organic originally was a term used to define small farms and farmers who grew without chemicals. It was a retort to the unsustainable industrial food business. Now this business has arms that it calls organic but are just as unsustainable as conventional farming, but they still play on the ideal of organic as small, family farm (look at any big organic product packaging). Beyond organic is an attempt to restore meaning to sustainable farming that has been perverted by the USDA and its beneficiaries.


pjkutscher
1/12/2011 9:55:14 AM

No wonder people are confused--so many have totally lost any connection with where their food comes from. Perhaps we should be placing things on a scale of "good, better, best"--i.e: commercial organic is better than commercial non-organic; local small-farm is better than commercial; local ORGANIC small-farm, better yet; organic that you produce yourself is best of all! People still need to educate themselves about their food supply and understand that commercial producers will ALWAYS try to find ways to "cheat" so as to sell their product. Even so, many people will still be confused--some people will always be confused.


rick32
8/27/2010 9:54:34 AM

Beyond Organic to me relates to Hi-Brix Organic Produce. I have found that commercial and organic produce in grocery store have the same 4-6 Brix reading. I am only interested in organic produce with a Brix reading of over 10.


ben discoe_3
2/5/2010 1:01:37 AM

I've been using the phrase "beyond organic" for quite a long time to describe our farm (http://ahualoa.net/teafarm/). It's not because i think organic “doesn't mean anything anymore”. I know exactly what it means, and i think plenty of consumers do too. Millions of people understand at least the basics (no herbicide, no pesticide, no chemical fertilizer). I trust the certification process, as far as it goes. It's a valuable first step, but it isn't SUSTAINABLE. You can strip-mine phosphate in Florida or guano in Peru and ship it to a farm in Hawaii and be Certified Organic. When i say "beyond organic", i mean we follow the organic rules as a first step, then go beyond it towards actual sustainability.


ben discoe_3
2/5/2010 12:58:31 AM

I've been using the phrase "beyond organic" for quite a long time to describe our farm (http://ahualoa.net/teafarm/). It's not because i think organic “doesn't mean anything anymore”. I know exactly what it means, and i think plenty of consumers do too. Millions of people understand at least the basics (no herbicide, no pesticide, no chemical fertilizer). I trust the certification process, as far as it goes. It's a valuable first step, but it isn't SUSTAINABLE. You can strip-mine phosphate in Florida or guano in Peru and ship it to a farm in Hawaii and be Certified Organic. When i say "beyond organic", i mean we follow the organic rules as a first step, then go beyond it towards actual sustainability.


david schafer
2/3/2010 8:49:53 AM

As a farmer selling the first "natural" meats into the Kansas City market over 20 years ago I was devastated when "natural" was co-opted by the US government and Tysons and everyone else came out with "natural" meats. We were forced to re-position our products and chose other descriptive words. Debating the organic labeling at its inception we realized that - for meats - it wasn't descriptive of what our special differences were. Organic meat and milk producers may still use confinement and feed grains - both very unnatural techniques. Joel Salatin started the organic movement in his area then was disenfranchised by the group when he demanded higher standards. His 'Beyond Organic' word choice sprouted from trial and tribulation. From the other side of the fence, folks holding to the highest standards of production but refusing to jump through the hoops of (and pay for) organic certification appear to have an inferior product to those who have opted for the organic label. The certification, I believe, can be a shield that prevents consumers from asking all of the important questions. That said, I shop "organic" on everything we don't produce ourselves.


sandra brown_2
2/2/2010 9:11:56 PM

When people ask if my grass-fed beef is organic I point out to them that the USDA owns the term "organic"--the same inspecting arm of government that allowed those downer cows in California to be picked up by forklift trucks. The same government entity that worked hand in hand with industry to allow ammonia in hamburger sold to schools. ((http://www.grist.org/article/2010-01-05-cheap-food-ammonia-burgers/) People need to educate themselves as to the various farming practices (plastic or herbicide? fungicides or varieties that are naturally resistant?) and start connecting with local farmers they trust, canning and putting food by when it is in season, and, yes, supporting those growers who go organic. As for "beyond organic" I think Joel is trying to emphasize that a responsible steward of the Earth doesn't wait for the government to tell them what they shouldn't do. Remember that "organic" is a descriptor that leaves a lot out of the true goal here--healthy, local, sustainably produced food.


joyce hardin
2/2/2010 3:38:42 PM

I was surprised to find organic frozen spinach from China in a local market!


joyce hardin
2/2/2010 3:38:28 PM

I was surprised to find organic frozen spinach from China in a local market!


joe barfield_1
2/2/2010 12:44:25 PM

Some people are concerned about Who is growing the food they eat or that it was flown to them from half way around the globe? That isn't addressed by the label "Organic". I think it is perfectly reasonable for people to be able to ask that question with out being accused of being holier than thou. Seriously, Salatin isn't causing the term "Organic" to be diluted. Big corporations have glommed on to the organic label. Great! That's good, but as the organic model becomes more mainstream, the fringes (good and bad) will continue to develop. Joel Salatin and big business organic are not mutually exclusive and don't detract from each other...


joe barfield_2
2/2/2010 12:44:17 PM

Some people are concerned about Who is growing the food they eat or that it was flown to them from half way around the globe? That isn't addressed by the label "Organic". I think it is perfectly reasonable for people to be able to ask that question with out being accused of being holier than thou. Seriously, Salatin isn't causing the term "Organic" to be diluted. Big corporations have glommed on to the organic label. Great! That's good, but as the organic model becomes more mainstream, the fringes (good and bad) will continue to develop. Joel Salatin and big business organic are not mutually exclusive and don't detract from each other...


tohorner@gmail.com_6
2/1/2010 9:07:27 AM

While the organic label effects some positive changes, they are not sufficient to establishing a sustainable and socially just food system. Some certified organic farms replace herbicides with miles of non-recyclable black plastic to kill weeds. Some replace herbicides with armies of under-paid workers (I have been one of these.) The organic label is highly susceptible to industrial agri-business co-option. We need a more nuanced language than the organic/"conventional" binary to describe our nations farms, and that vocabulary will only come, as the above poster has stated, with greater intimacy between producer and consumer. If farmers settle for government's definition of "organic," Wholefoods and corporate farms will continue to exploit the organic label as a siren song, lulling the consumer into complacency and continuing to put smallholder farmers out of work. Does this mean that all certified organic farms are bad farms? Of course not. The dialogue just can't end with USDA mandates. A Young Farmer in NH


the organic bloom is off the rose_1
1/29/2010 11:36:21 AM

Unfortunately, when the Gov't became the arbiter of what is and is not Organic, the organic movement lost much of it's credibility. If you rely on some Gov't bureaucrat to determine the quality of your food you will be assured no more than what is produced by the Industrial Food System. I think both Mr. Pollan and Mr. Salatin both suggest that we all get to know our food suppliers... after all, that was the whole journey that inpsired the Omnivore's Dilemma. We all need to quit stopping short at just being consumers and become our own expert on the food we consume... going "Beyond Organic"