Jan 19, 2023 - Politics & Policy

U.S. government cracks down on scammy organic labels

Illustration of an apple wearing a joke Groucho Mark glasses

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The government has new rules to determine what's really organic and what's a sham.

Why it matters: The term "organic" has been stretched over the years as these foods become increasingly popular — and pricey. Products labeled organic that don't meet government standards are hitting store shelves.

Case in point: The Justice Department recently charged several individuals in a multimillion-dollar scheme to sell ordinary soybeans from Eastern Europe as organic in the U.S.

  • Organic soybeans cost up to 50% more than their nonorganic counterparts.

Driving the news: The Department of Agriculture is cracking down on fakes with its biggest-ever overhaul of organic guidelines, released Thursday.

  • The changes include requiring those in the middle — such as traders and brokers — to be certified alongside the food producers themselves, per the Washington Post. There will also be more inspections and required certification for imports.

The big picture: U.S. organic food sales hit $57.5 billion in 2021 — more than double what they were about a decade ago, per Food Dive.

Reality check: "Though some consumers view 'organic' as a synonym for 'healthy,' the science on whether organic food is healthier is mixed," the Washington Post's Laura Reiley writes.

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