freakonomics - Organic Trade Association
Organic Trade Association
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In response to New York Times "Freakonomics," July 24, 2008


Daniel Sumner’s answers to two questions posed about organic products require some further clarification.

Yes, organic does have a specific legal meaning in the United Sates, and using the term without complying with national organic standards regulations is subject to costly fines (up to $11,000 per instance) and a loss of reputation. In addition, the way organic foods are grown and processed is more closely monitored than other types of food production. Organic foods must meet or exceed all federal organic regulations as well as all applicable food safety regulations.

For over 12 years, the Organic Trade Association has advocated for proper funding for the National Organic program, so that it has the resources it needs to create and enforce the organic regulations covering all organic food and beverage products sold in the United States, regardless of origin. Organic production is scale neutral. In other words, companies regardless of size (small, medium or large) are required to meet the same rules. Any operation selling more than $5,000 worth of organic products annually must be certified as meeting the national organic standards and must be inspected. Thus, there is oversight.

Currently, the price gap is narrowing between organic products and their non-organic counterparts. Statistics from SPINS Scan show that in some cases, organic products cost the same or only pennies more than their non-organic counterparts. Organic farms do not receive subsidies. Thus, the loss of subsidies for non-organic conventional crops may help show the true costs of their production, which will be more aligned with those of organic production.

Organic products are for everyone, not just the rich, as Mr. Sumner asserts. In fact, surveys have found that consumers of all walks of life and all economic sectors buy organic products. There are many venues for buying organic products, and consumers have many choices in where they purchase them. What is more of a determinant is a mindset by the consumer, and a focus on values, with a view on how our purchasing choices connect to the wider world around us.

Mounting evidence is showing that “a large-scale shift to organic farming would not only increase the world’s food supply but might be the only way to eradicate hunger,” according to Brian Halweil of WorldWatch. “Organic Agriculture and Food Security,” a United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization conference in Rome in May 2007, reached a similar conclusion, noting that organic agriculture could help fight world hunger and bring environmental improvements.

Meanwhile, scientific evidence continues to emerge on the nutritional and environmental benefits of organic food and farming. Sites to visit for summaries of these findings include The Organic Center ( and The Rodale Institute (

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