Wisconsin Organic Farmers Applaud USDA Crackdown On False Advertising

USDA Clarifies Rules About What It Means To Use 'Organic' Label On Products

Above, organic ramps sold at the Dane County Farmers' Market. Photo: beautifulcataya (CC-BY-NC-ND).

Last week, the USDA National Organic Program cracked down on false advertising of organic food products, making waves among organic farmers and retailers across Wisconsin.

Organic farming is a big deal in Wisconsin. The USDA says that only California has more organic farms, and Wisconsin ranks number one in organic dairy and beef operations. So when the USDA clarified its rule about legal use of the term “organic” on product packaging last week, local producers were pleased.

The agency said it would begin reprimanding companies that have the word “organic” in their brand or company name but produce only partially organic or inorganic products. (An example of a partially organic product would be a pizza with organic wheat crust, but regular cheese.)

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“Farmers call and say, ‘You know, I go through all the trouble of certifying and I have to stand next to this guy at a farmers’ markets and he gets to call himself organic and he hasn’t done any of the work,’” said Liana Hoodes, the executive director of the National Organic Coalition.

Margaret Krome is the public policy program director at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in Madison.

“Our state has really grown in organic agriculture in part because consumers have come to trust that label … so it can do nothing but help organic farmers to have consumers gain and reinforce that trust,” said Krome.

The USDA says its National Organic Program will review new or existing company or brand names using the term “organic” on a “case by case basis.” The agency will give companies “adequate time” to change their product labels, if necessary.

The agency didn’t offer comment on potential penalties.