More than in most retail transactions, the organic consumer is buying both a thing and an assurance about a thing. Organic crops are those which, among other restrictions, have been grown without the application of certain herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. Close scrutiny of a crop of non-organic tomatoes might reveal that they had been exposed to these treatments. But it might not. And an organic product can become accidentally tainted if proscribed chemicals carry across from a neighboring crop. The rules forgive such contamination—to a point. Testing for (proscribed chemicals) residues is not common in American organic regulation.
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Was this grown organically? That’s not like asking if a cup of coffee is decaffeinated. It’s more like buying sports memorabilia—is this really the ball?—or like trying to establish if a used car has had more than a single, careful owner.
Decaffeinated coffee can be tested in a laboratory, and the amount of caffeine in it can be determined with precision. Can you determine if something is organic? No.
When there is no clear definition of a word (green, honest, natural, organic) there is no punishment for whoever takes the word in vain in order to sell something.
Think about it next time you buy an organic shampoo.
Kate and Leopold (film, 2001)