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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.