Question: What does the “organic” label mean?
Marion Nestle: Organic is not a matter of belief. Organic is codified, regulated, and its definition is established by the Department of Agriculture. So in the United States organic means vegetable crops that are produced under conditions in which there is no fertilizers, no artificial pesticides, and none of those kind of inputs. And they’re not genetically modified, or radiated, or fertilized with sewage sludge. Very clear definition. Animals must be fed organic feed.
They must be allowed access to the outdoors. And there are some other rules that . . . that define that. And in order for a company to get a certified organic seal on their product, they must follow those rules and be inspected to make sure they follow those rules. And almost everybody that I know who is involved in the organic industry says the rules are followed, there’s very little cheating, and that in fact the system is pretty tight in following the rules.
The big question is whether those rules make any sense or not; and whether they’re good enough, strong enough, and meaningful enough, with the most obvious loophole being about animals having access to the outdoors. The rule doesn’t say they have to be outdoors. The rule just says they have to have access to the outdoors. That’s a loophole.
January 18, 2008