Organic Hop Growers Win Major Battle

A month ago, I blogged about a national regulatory board's decision to allow non-organic hops in beer labeled "organic." It's a little-known kink in the field of organic food that the feds allow small amounts of non-organic ingredients in food certified organic. A month ago, a sub-committee of this agency ruled that hops meet the exemption. Beer made with conventional hops could be labeled "organic."

After hop growers raised a ruckus, though, last week the sub-committee reversed itself. Beginning in 2013, any beer labeled "organic" will have to be made with organic hops. (The lag time will allow hop farmers to increase acreage to meet demand.) The Oregonian featured a detailed article on the issue on today's front page. It's not over, though. The full committee will vote later this month about whether to adopt the rule--though it seems likely to pass. In the original ruling, the vote was unanimous in favor of the exemption, but last week's vote was unanimous in favor of ending it. So that seems hopeful. (If you want to see the documents from the USDA, they're available here.)

For what it's worth, this is an example of how regulation helps businesses. In this case, the regulatory agency is remaining agnostic about whether organic is good or bad; it's merely saying that if you call something "organic," it must actually meet certain guidelines. Consumers can then make an informed choice. As a consequence, the market for organics is transparent, and consumers can express their will with their dollars. That allows organic growers to enter the market even though their product is more expensive, and organic breweries to make beer because organics are available. In an unregulated market, what we'd see instead is a lot of product marked "organic" that wasn't--and no market for actual organic hops.