Read the Label: Organic?

Do you read the label? Do you trust the label? Is there truth in advertising? The political philosophy of Libertarian Paternalism means allowing people choices, but influencing them in a good direction. To this end, labeling food is one of the best roles of a government– verifying what’s being pushed on us. Most labels (e.g. “cage-free,” “natural”) need not mean anything; they’re not tied to some government-defined standard. But what about the term “organic”–is it also a meaningless term? The short answer is USDA Certified Organic or California Certified Organic Farmers – CCOF actually do mean something and do carry weight. So look for those labels!
Homemade pizza, one of only three dishes I can make (along with pasta and vareniki (Ukrainian pirogi). These ingredients are organic!


The debate rages whether it is worthwhile to purchase organic food. Is it worth the extra cash? The health benefits are definitely arguable, but the environmental benefits are much clearer (less pesticides = less runoff and less dead zones). In any case, the question here is really about the meaning of the term and whether consumers can/should trust different labels with the word “organic” on them (or related seals/certifications). Here’s a way to go about investigating more deeply, links and text courtesy of my most environmentally aware friends Pat and Melissa Maigler:


One of best the sources to validate labeling terms is the Greener Choices website from the Consumers Union (the nonprofit publisher, most known for Consumer Reports). Greener Choices has an Eco-Label search center, where you can search for “organic” and find the following huge list of potential labels saying organic.  When shopping at stores, look for USDA Certified Organic and at farmers’ markets, look for California Certified Organic Farmers – CCOF.  In both of these cases, Greener Choices identifies the label as being “Highly” meaningful and “Verified.”
There is much more info on the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) on their official website  and the under the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations Title 7 (Agriculture), part 205.

About zoomloco

I zoom-zoom loco like the pony express.
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4 Responses to Read the Label: Organic?

  1. Something to keep in mind at Farmer’s Markets–it takes a lot of money to get certified organic, and many (most?) small farmers can’t afford it (I don’t think any of the farmers at our market are certified organic). A far better option is to simply talk to the farmer about their farming practices. You also have to weigh what’s important to you. I’d rather have a farmer treat their poultry humanely than worry about whether they are supplementing with certified organic feed (which is of course more expensive.)

    And of course, even if they aren’t fully organic, does the use of pesticides outweigh buying a product that was grown within an hour or two of where it was purchased?

    And are there other concerns to be weighed? If I’m baking with kids, I’ll buy (non-organic) pasteurized eggs, because I’d rather not take chances with a child’s health but don’t want them to miss the joy of eating the dough/batter and licking spoons etc.

    I don’t think that someone can “buy organic” and think they’re doing what’s best for the environment–or more importantly, themselves. (Organic cheeze puffs are just as unhealthy as the non-organic ones if you’re going to sit down and eat the whole bag.)

  2. zoomloco says:

    Answering a Facebook question about my personal practices, I always buy organic milk and eggs and almost always organic cheese products (for animal ethics reasons as well as environment). I consider the price of buying organic a self-tax so I give myself incentives to consume less animal products. For buying veggies, it’s a more mixed bag, maybe half and half. But over time I’m increasing the organic. Once I make a non-grad student salary, it will undoubtedly make a bigger percentage. Local is relatively easy in SoCal, but my understanding is that buying in-season (not necessarily local) is actually the best/ most efficient way to go (e.g. in Canada, don’t buy summer vegetables in winter, even if they’re grown in a local greenhouse!)

  3. josemaria626 says:

    Nice GZA reference on the title. I’ve found myself go from one extreme to another, from caring almost nothing abt the food I consumed, to carefully analyzing how each thing I put in my body will affect it. Since I started eating almost exclusively meat and vegetables, I’m much more satiated and feel grand. More on topic, I’ve begun, like you O my cousin, “organic-ing” my consumption. Eggs are quite possibly the easiest place to start, followed by meat, and then vegetables.

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