It seems everyone wants to buy organic these days – and seem to be willing to pay a lot more for it. But are you really getting what you’re paying for?!? I have my doubts.

Ask most people what comes to mind when they hear the word “organic” and they will probably come up with something like a small family farm, free of pesticides. Bountiful, nutritious crops being raised with love and care. They probably don’t envision factory farms laser-leveling their fields to be able to mechanically harvest. But that is rapidly becoming the state of organic farming.

Don’t get me wrong. I applaud the concept of pesticide-free produce, but I’m NOT willing to pay a premium price for something factory-farmed – especially since the term “organic” is being misapplied – in my not-so-humble opinion.

USDA Organic now means that only 95% of a multi-ingredient product must be organic ingredients. A rider to the 2006 Agricultural Appropriations bill, written in obscure legal language, effectively nullifies a 2005 Court decision affirming OFPA’s ban on “synthetic ingredients” in processed organic foods while reinforcing a loophole allowing the use of hundreds of synthetic processing substances without review. It gives the USDA unprecedented power to grant “emergency exemptions” to allow non-organic ingredients without citizen review when organic ones are deemed not commercially available. So… is it organic?!? Or, rather, how organic is it?!?

And then we have folks who incorrectly believe that “organic” automatically means “healthier.” According to both the USDA and the leadership of the $6 billion organic industry, organic certification is only an accreditation of production methods used by farmers and not an assurance of food safety, quality, nutrition or health.

In other words, an organic “Pop Tart” is still a “Pop Tart.” Even Consumers Report questioned the wisdom of paying more for processed organic foods like cereal or bread, which have limited nutrient value and aren’t always fully organic.

How “organic” is that milk you’re paying twice the amount for? Is it coming from “happy cows” like you see on the California Cheese commercials? From a local dairy farm? Probably not. The above rider also allows dairies to use non-organic replacement animals!

USDA National Organic Program Standards require Outdoor Access and Pasture for Organic Animals and Livestock. Sounds pretty basic, right? Well… Would you be surprised to lean that more and more organic milk is coming from factory farms keeping their cows in confinement feedlots and barns? Oh, they’re feeding their cows certified feed, but is it “organic milk” if the cow is in a pen and not in a pasture? Is it worth twice the price?

Not to mention that most organic milk u=is ultra pasteurized to prolong shelf life.  Ultra pasteurization destroys proteins which is why ultra pasteurized heavy cream has to have carrageenan added to make it whip.

And then we have “free-range.” One would think that free-range chickens have spent their short lives outdoors, enjoying the sunshine and grass, and fresh air. Well, it actually means that they had “access” to the outdoors – whether they ever went outdoors, or not. So much for the myth of happy chickens…..

Like “weapons of mass destruction” – a phrase that was never defined, leaving the individual to conjure up his or her own worst nightmare – “organic” and “free-range” have been equally co-opted. The vision of what we want to believe – and are paying premium price for – is not necessarily reality.

In a society that has put quantity over quality, it becomes the responsibility of the individual to look beyond the hype and labels. And if you’re willing to pay more for “organic” make sure it truly is what you think it should be.