Legal Insight. Business Instinct.

What does it take to make ‘organic foods’ organic?

The Organic Trade Association’s 2012 annual industry survey found that sales of all organic products grew 9.5 percent in 2011. Organic food and beverage sales totaled more than 29.2 billion dollars in 2011 and continue to grow. There are “organic” farms in all 50 states and consumers continue to demand safe, natural foods.

Organic refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. “Organic food production is based on a system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers. Organic foods are minimally processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives, or irradiation to maintain the integrity of the food.” (

The Organic Food Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) set national standards for production, processing, and certification of organic food. Today, food labeled as “USDA organic” must meet national organic standards. The USDA’s National Organic Program oversees the program and certifies that food meets the USDA organic guidelines.

Idaho law gives further guidance and direction on the meaning of “organic.” Chapter 11 of Title 22 defines an “organic food product” as “any food product that is marketed using the term organic, or any derivative of the term organic in its labeling or advertising. Organic foods are those processed, packaged, transported and stored to retain maximum nutritional value, without the use of artificial preservatives, coloring or other additives, irradiation, or synthetic pesticides.” Idaho Code § 22-1102(6).

Organically grown food products are those “which are produced without the use of synthetically compounded fertilizers, pesticides, or growth regulators for a period not less than thirty-six (36) months prior to harvest.” Idaho Code § 22-1102(7).

Since foods labeled with an “organic” label can often be sold at a higher price, Idaho law protects the use of the organic label. Idaho law states that “[a] producer, vendor or handler shall not sell or resell or offer for sale or resale any food product with the representation that the product is an organically grown food product if the producer, vendor or handler knows, or has reason to know, that the food product has not been grown, raised or produced as an organically grown food product.” Idaho Code § 22-1105. A violation of the law can result in a civil fine of up to $10,000. Idaho Code § 22-1104.

Idaho farmers and ranchers are faced with an ever-changing market. Many consumers are looking for “organic” foods in their pursuit of a healthier lifestyle. Farmers and ranchers should be aware of the requirements of state and federal law when it comes to growing, packaging, and selling organic food products.

– Lance J. Schuster is a lawyer at Beard St. Clair Gaffney. He and his wife raise kids and cattle on their small farm near Idaho Falls. He can be reached at 523-5171 or

Skip to content