Please Explain: What Do Organic Labels Mean?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thomas Bjorkman, professor of horticulture at Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY, and Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Director, Consumer Safety and Sustainability Group at Consumer Reports, discuss what the organic label indicates about how food is grown, and what the various animal welfare labels indicate about how meat or eggs were bred and raised.


Thomas Bjorkman and Urvashi Rangan,

Comments [24]

Thomas Björkman

Reply to Victoria regarding costs and subsidies: The situation isn't quite like you describe it.

Both conventional and organic farmers participate in programs that cost money and programs that provide subsidies. Organic certification costs are currently subsidized. There are also support programs intended specifically to encourage organic practices.

It is up to you to decide whether you think there is a fair deal. In fact, the fairness of the many programs is being hotly debated in Congress as they seek to pass a Farm Bill. But organic farmers do get a piece of the pie because they have a strong voice in Washington.

Sep. 14 2012 02:42 PM
Thomas Björkman

In response to Tony regarding hydroponics, the answer is no. Here's what the NOSB has to say on the subject:
"[Because] organic farming [is] based upon [the] foundation of sound management of soil biology and ecology, it becomes clear that systems of crop production that eliminate soil from the system, such as hydroponics or aeroponics, can not be considered as examples of acceptable organic farming practices."

Sep. 14 2012 02:26 PM
Henry from Manhattan

National Organic versus International Organic

International organic has a certain edge over national organic. Why? Because the US is far more industrialized in approach in regards to agriculture in general, conventional and organic.

In say, rural India or China, parts of Europe and South America, they aren’t so industrialized to begin with. They have the workforce for hand labor, are accustomed to it, and can’t really afford much agricultural technology.

Sure, there’s some concerns about use of older cheaper pesticides that make it to such rural production markets, and concerns about oversight, but in general, international organic in lesser developed areas is fine.

Maybe you don’t want organic strawberries from China since they won’t really ship well, but rice, beans, teas and such, goods that ship dried, will be perfectly fine.

Also, shipping of such goods internationally doesn’t have much environmental impact (excluding air shipping) due toefficiencies of scale and all that.

Sep. 14 2012 02:21 PM
gene from nyc


Olkin also accepted money from the tobacco industry’s Council for Tobacco Research, according to letters dating back to 1976.

“I learned, in visiting with Dr. Olkin, that he would like to examine the theoretical structure of the "multivariate logistic risk function." This particular statistical technique has been employed in the analysis of the Framingham study of heart disease,” wrote William W. Shinn, a lawyer with Shook Hardy & Bacon who represented the tobacco industry's Committee of Counsel at the time. “He is asking for two years of support at the rate of $6,000 per year …

Sep. 14 2012 02:17 PM
Henry from Manhattan

On the washing blueberries conventional or organic. Sure, rinse them off, but don’t worry about it.

There are far more impactful dietary and environmental health concerns then pesticides on blueberries.

Sep. 14 2012 02:13 PM
Henry from Manhattan

jim from Niagara Co. NY:
“yes, there is no rule that does not allow an organic farmer from aerial applying organically approved products. I reality, aerial applications are not used as much in agriculture as they use to be and it would not be used to spray a small area.”

Thanks jim, I actually already knew the answer to the question to a certain extent, but I thought it would be a good wedge to open up the discussion of organic pesticides and application since it’s often assumed that organic is pesticide free.

Thomas Bjorkman explained organic pesticide use to my satisfaction though.

Sep. 14 2012 02:04 PM
Amy from Manhattan

There's a 3rd reason to buy organic products, in addition to not wanting to consume antibiotices & synthetic pesticides & fertilizers individually & wanting to reduce the effect of these substances on the earth: wanting to create & expand the market for products so more of them will be grown & they'll make up a greater proportion of all the food that's grown.

Sep. 14 2012 02:02 PM
Nicole Palitti from Blauvelt ny

What do your guest think about Brix ratings used in Europe?

Sep. 14 2012 02:01 PM
pierce from brooklyn

regarding the social and environmental benefits of organic agricultural production methods vs standard practices which rely heavily on pesticides look at the rate of illness and life expectancies of cotton farmers in the third world
, countries such as Pakistan.

Sep. 14 2012 01:59 PM
gene from NYC

Re: your caller's trenchant "framing" remark:

The tobacco industry has been expert at re-framing.

Co-author Olkin has been a recipient of tobacco $$.

Sep. 14 2012 01:57 PM
Henry from Manhattan

Um, sorry caller and guest. According to a Neilson poll, 51% of people purchase organic because they believe that it is more nutritious.

The study isn’t debunking a straw man. For whatever reason, either consumer misconceptions or organic marketing to promote such ideas, plenty of people believe that organic is more nutritious.

The study limited itself to that one idea, because that was enough for one study to address.

Sep. 14 2012 01:56 PM
Victoria Feltman from Manhattan

Why is it that organic farmers need to pay to get certified while conventional farms are supported by government subsidies? Is anything being done to level the playing field? Fix the system?

Sep. 14 2012 01:53 PM
Laura from Brooklyn

just started to listen.. have you addressed humane treatment of animals and labels about it?

Sep. 14 2012 01:53 PM
rachel from manhattan

Do the commercial veggie washes do anything in terms of washing off chemicals or bacteria?

Sep. 14 2012 01:52 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I didn't realize Consumer Reports was so involved in the issues of organic foods & livestock conditions! Glad to hear it.

Speaking of livestock conditions, does "cage free" at least mean the chickens aren't scrunched together in tiny cages w/their beaks cut off so they don't peck each other?

Sep. 14 2012 01:50 PM
Tony from Newark

Can hydroponic production be certified organisc

Sep. 14 2012 01:43 PM
tim from nyc

can the experts talk a little about the kosher labels? do they say anything about the quality of the foods or their "organic-ness?"

Sep. 14 2012 01:37 PM
Kathleen Kesson from Brooklyn

Can your guests comment on the recent news concerning the new Stanford study, that is the relationships between Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute, which supports the researchers, and the chemical and agribusiness industry?

Sep. 14 2012 01:37 PM
Jonah from Bkln

Pee is the cheapest organic nitrogen fertilizer.

Sep. 14 2012 01:35 PM
Linda from LES

OH! and my friends came back from Woodstock and told me they watched a mean hippie dump grocery produce out of containers into a bin and stick an organic sign on it.

I got tricked into buying hot house tomatoes at an Asbury Park farmer's market.

I'm glad you're talking about oversight on this.

Sep. 14 2012 01:30 PM
Dan K from NYC

Don't believe the Stanford study! The scientists who made it have strong ties to BigAg.

Sep. 14 2012 01:29 PM
Linda from LES

So if I hate Monsanto, you know hypothetically, and I want to boycott their corn,
How do I know that my organic, locally grown corn isn't from Monsanto seeds?

Separate issue but,
FYI, it's hard to boycott Monsanto. They produce a beets for sugar but all the sugar on the grocer's shelf is cane sugar.

Sep. 14 2012 01:26 PM
jim from Niagara Co. NY

yes, there is no rule that does not allow an organic farmer from aerial applying organically approved products. I reality, aerial applications are not used as much in agriculture as they use to be and it would not be used to spray a small area.

Sep. 14 2012 11:44 AM
Henry from Manhattan

Does the organic label permit the aerial application (or “crop dusting”) of organic pesticides?

Sep. 14 2012 11:38 AM

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