The National Organic Standards Board, the advisory panel to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on federal organic regulations, has recommended that organic beer be brewed with organic hops by 2013.
This board’s unanimous vote on Oct. 28 was a victory for organic hops growers and others, who had petitioned for the change in the USDA National Organic Program’s National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. The list includes several dozen non-organic ingredients that can be used in food labeled as organic.
Following the board’s vote, the nonprofit American Organic Hop Grower Association wrote on its website that the decision was “a win-win-win for organic consumers, organic brewers, and organic hop growers” and said the two-season wait “gives growers and brewers ample time to discuss planting desired varieties and to align the supply and demand of organic hops.”
The hops issue had become not only a truth-in-labeling controversy, but symbolic of the dilemma organic growers face in trying to create or expand markets, a challenge not limited to hops.
Three years ago, USDA had said domestic organic-hop production could not keep pace with demand from organic-beer brewers, so it allowed hops grown more cheaply with the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to be used in beer marketed as organic.
That left little incentive for the small number of organic beer brewers to seek out organic hops, which can can cost three times as much as conventionally grown hops.
Critics of the campaign to take hops off the allowed, non-organic list argued that requiring organic brewers to use organic hops would only encourage them to turn to foreign suppliers.
In the end, however, supporters of the petition to the standards board included several organic beer brewers.
The hops issue wasn’t the only item on the table when the standards board met, in Madison, WI, for its twice-yearly review. In a separate recommendation, the board voted to continue to allow non-organic casings for sausage that is labeled as organic.