Amuse Bouche: The Cocktail Party Guide To The Organic Controversy Du Jour

The Cocktail Party Guide tells you what you need to know about the current controversies and issues in food in order to sound fascinating and well-informed at your next gathering. You can thank us in tips.

Bloggers and newspapers alike are in a tizzy over the Department of Agriculture’s proposal to widen the list of nonorganic ingredients allowed in “organic” foods. A food product that is labeled organic must have 95% organic ingredients. The other 5% may be nonorganic, provided they come from a list of approved ingredients, all of which should theoretically be things that are essential to production, but unavailable organically. The USDA has proposed to add 38 new ingredients to the approved list and many organic foodies are hopping mad.

The issue is twofold. First, it’s simply misleading to label something that is partially nonorganic as “organic.” Anheuser-Busch, for example, boasts that its Wild Hop Lager is “the perfect organic experience“, but the beer contains hops that have been sprayed with pesticides. For consumers concerned about nonorganic foods, that’s the equivalent of McDonald’s frying their fries in beef tallow. Such misleading nomenclature can cause a general loss of faith in foods labeled organic, much to the detriment of suppliers who truly use all organic ingredients.

Secondly, the list itself is problematic. Many of the ingredients could easily be made in an organic fashion. As Russell Klisch, the owner of Lakefront Brewery who has been outspoken in his opposition of the USDA’s proposal remarked to the Los Angeles Times, “You’re telling me that Anheuser-Busch can’t find a little plot of ground somewhere to grow organic hops?” Those items on the proposed list that truly can’t be made organically are ingredients that really have no place in organic foods, such as fructooligosaccharides (so much fun to say!), which is listed as a “non-digestible carbohydrate.” Excellent! Just what we were hoping to find in our organic food products!

The USDA is expected to make a decision about the proposed list within days. In the meantime, feel free to start dropping some organic food science on your friends who’ve been talking about the Farm Bill for months.

More on the organic nonorganic rules [Megnut]
Nonorganic Exceptions Ruffle Enthusiasts of Organic Foods [New York Times]
USDA May Relax Standards for Organic Foods [LA Times]
Lakefront Brewery: Organic Beer Should Require Organic Hops [Chris O’Brien’s Beer Activist Blog]

Amuse Bouche: The Cocktail Party Guide To The Organic Controversy Du Jour