Beware of ‘Beyond Organic’

| 1/28/2010 3:43:18 PM

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.”

11/24/2018 10:49:17 AM

I probably qualify as one listed in the last paragraph. I am a farmer and educator. I visit many farms in my area that are "organic" yet not good stewards of the land. I am a biodynamic grower that will not use a tractor. My work goes back to the early 1970's. The worst thing about organic is that the USDA got involved. I try to educate consumers and growers alike. I am currently doing this with my new book, Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming. The best thing to do is to become educated and get to know your farmer.

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 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

Facebook Instagram Twitter

click me