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.”

8/13/2019 5:10:59 PM

When I coined the term Beyond Organic is is not related to certification but to the 961 chemicals approved for use by certified organic farms. I am beyond these farms by being even safer and conservative that certified organic. For example, 99 % of organic produce has spinosad on it which has a three day to harvest wait and has moderate residual. My beyond organic is far better with 1 day low residual. I think the author is trying to defend organic certification which has been bastardized and resents us who have beyond it to even safer farming practices. Dan Childs--grower of the sweetest Blueberries on the planet.

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.

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