Organic Label Loses Meaning

Increasing demand by American consumers for organic produce is gradually diluting the meaning of the term, according to some food experts.

In 1990, Congress passed landmark legislation regulating the definition of organic produce. The Organic Foods Production Act mandated that the Secretary of Agriculture create a list of approved synthetic materials that could be used in officially labeled organic foods. The current standards ban the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and hormones.

However, according to some organic advocates, the law does not go far enough in mandating environmental sustainability.

The problem, these advocates say, is that the idea of organic farming conjures up very specific images in the minds of American consumers. Many shoppers buy organic food imagining that it is better for the environment and hoping to contribute to the larger green movement.

Packaging and labeling on organic food products often play into this symbolic imagery, adorning their products with images of verdant fields and natural splendor.

The truth, however, is that the increased demand for organic food has led to the creation of large-scale organic farming which is often bad for the environment. In order to meet demand, organic farms have stepped up production, often planting only a single crop (which in turn overtaxes soil nutrients). This increased production has also led to increased demand for scarce water resources, often overexploiting valuable aquifers.

While most experts agree that organic farming is still better for the environment than conventional farming, many are calling for organic labeling reforms to include a stronger emphasis on environmental sustainability.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer