Becky L. Jacobs

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Kentucky Journal of Equine, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Law


We recently began a quest, Don Quixote-like, to determine the definition of “organic” food, or at least to assess how most consumers of organic food in the U.S. perceive that term to be defined. Our quest was inspired by a visit to a “sustainable” farm that was hosting a farm-to-table dining event. The crowd was large and enthusiastic; the meal was exceptional; and the farm setting was bucolic and impressive.

In our conversations with the very capable farm owner, we were very surprised to learn that her products, mostly vegetables, were not certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). When we inquired further about the reasons for this, the very foundations of our “organic” world began to crack. She explained that, not only was the program administratively burdensome for many small farmers, it also was ideologically anathematic to those who farm using 100% natural techniques and products. This is because USDA certified organic farmers are permitted to treat their crops with synthetic substances from an approved list. Also, the farm hostess was discouraged by her belief that multinational food companies now disproportionately influence the USDA “organic” program, exerting constant pressure to allow the use of conventional materials preferred by industrial operators as well as the import of products from countries with “organic” standards that may not have been audited or may be weaker than those in the U.S.

This, of course, was quite disturbing to zealous organic food converts. Disillusioned, we did what any academics would do – we decided to research the issue to see if our naivete was singular, or if there were, perhaps, others who had similar perceptions of the meaning of the “organic” label. If there were others suffering this cognitive dissonance, what might the impact be on the environment and on the broad spectrum of participants in the sustainable food market?

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