Should Beer Be Labeled "Organic" If It's Made With Non-Organic Hops?

The more we continue to live and breathe on this earth the more we realize that the term “organic” is really just code for “awesome marketing idea.”

The USDA has proposed to change the “National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances,” to include 38 non-organic ingredients that organic food producers have been mistakenly using in their products, according to the Consumer Law & Policy Blog. The list in question consists of the substances that are allowed in food labeled “organic,” and currently contains 5 items.

How were organic food makers getting away with using, for example, non-organic casings for their sausages?

It all began with the Organic Foods Production Act. The act says that only ingredients included in the National List can be used in food labeled organic. The USDA, possibly because they’re too busy not protecting our food supply to read laws that pertain to them, said that any ingredient can be added to “organic” food as long as there is no “organic” substitute.

Understandably, these conflicting policies have been causing a lot of confusion. What’s the USDA’s solution? To change the law to include all the non-organic substances that “organic” food producers have been adding to their products. Most of the ingredients in question are chemicals used for artificial coloring, but the new list also includes hops—meaning that beer made from regular old non-organic hops could be used to make “organic” beer. Also included on the list are Chipotle peppers, with the rationale that the ones from Mexico taste better.

We can only assume that the price tags of these “organic” foods would still reflect that lovely “organic” certification. We’re not saying you should only eat organic food or be horrified that there is pesticide on your Chipotle peppers. We’re saying you should get what you pay for, and the labeling of “organic” food in the US seems to be broken, or at the very least, misleading. —MEGHANN MARCO

Would you call beer “organic” if it were made with non-organic hops? USDA would. [CL&P]
Proposed Rules [USDA]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Framling says:

    it’s = it is

    its = belonging to it

  2. jjbelsky says:

    Or, as is frequently the case with organic foods:

    it’s = it is not

  3. Elvisisdead says:

    We have a friend that used to work for ConAgra Foods. He stated that the regs are so lax and producer-friendly that they use the same inputs in the same organic and non-organic products, and then just label them differently.

  4. aiken says:

    Might as well try to define what a “green” car is.

    On the one hand, it’s ridiculous to define organic as “mostly organic, except the parts that aren’t.” On the other hand, the strictest possible interpretation of the term would require organic beer to use pure rainwater rather than any kind of purified or chemically treated water.

    At some point it gets ridiculous. No matter what the definition is, some (mostly but not entirely) reasonable people will be misled. Given that there’s no perfect solution, maybe the answer is to allow the use of the term in the ingredients label (ie, “water, organic malt, hops”) and to coin another term for “organic in intent.”

  5. paco says:

    Or stick to what Pollan advocates–that local matters more than organic.

    And if you want to be sure you’re buying organic, know where the food is coming from and know whether the producers in fact support and follow organic production principles.

  6. MarkMadsen'sDanceInstructor says:

    +1 to jjbelsky

  7. r81984 says:



  8. glomm says:

    I don’t really care whether the food is organic or not. I just use it as a proxy for the quality of the food, since “organic” food tends to taste, as well as be more expensive.

  9. londoncalling says:

    Only a bureaucrat could mangle the definition of something as seemingly simply as ‘organic’. Either a product is produced from or by using only natural means or it isn’t. Besides, isn’t to whole point of buying organic a way to avoid products that contain chemical additives such as ‘artificial colour’?

    The first sentence of this article really is true – ‘organic’ is just a term for ‘awesome marketing idea’. Perhaps the most effective way of staying true to the ‘organic state of mind’ is to avoid the mass-produced foods in the super-market that are labeled ‘organic’ and start visiting the local grocer or farmers market for ones organic purchases.

  10. OnceWasCool says:

    Companies use words like quality that can also mean anything they want it to. I worked at a ConAgra plant one time and went through quality training. Quality is a standard but does NOT been perfection. If your quality standard is 10 bad ones produced for every 100 made, then if you made 9 bad one it is still a quality product.

    Every company that uses Quality in advertising or labeling has there own definition of what that means.

    Kinda like Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    Organic is taking on the same qualities.

  11. phrygian says:

    More companies should be like Peace Cereal. They try to use all organic ingredients, but since it’s not usually possible, they print on the front of the box what percentage of the cereal is made from organic ingredients. I definitely prefer this approach to lying about organic contents or “redefining” the term organic.

  12. hemaphore says:

    i’m just curious, does saying organic mean 100% organic? or does explicitly saying 100% organic mean something different?

  13. Falconfire says:

    Im confused then, hops is a plant. Is it how they grown the plant that makes it non-organic, or the plant it’s self?

  14. lilyHaze says:

    I’m starting to go the organic/local route, but I’m being selective about it. I’m starting with dairy (mostly milk, eggs, yogurt). For the money that I now have to pay (usually 2x the price of the non-organic), I don’t want to be lied to.

    Falconfire, yes, I believe it’s the way the hops are grown that either make it organic or non-organic (i.e. fertilizers).

  15. WV.Hillbilly says:

    It shouldn’t be labeled beer if it contains corn or rice either.

  16. Framling says:



  17. getjustin says:

    Maybe they mean organic as in “carbon-based.” In that case, everything we eat and drink is organic. Also, why are you drinking organic beer. Man (Lady) up and drink a High Life: loaded with tasty, tasty chemicals.

  18. rhombopteryx says:

    So this is the same USDA that tried to make these exceptions 2 years ago, and got smacked down by the judge and told not to, and is now doing it again, right? (from the CL&P article)

    OR, is the same USDA that still allows cattle food to contain parts from other cows, some 6 YEARS after mad cow was identified in US herds?

    OR, is it the same USDA that approved the irradiation and spraying of bacteria viruses on meat, because US meat was sooo consistently infected with bacteria like E. Coli that introducing bacteria-killing viruses or radiation was considered a better idea than just ordering cleaner handling and more thorough inspections?

    Who does the USDA work for? I’m sooo confused.