What does "Certified Organic" really mean?

What does "Certified Organic" really mean?

Can a beer be only 95% organic and still get a USDA Certified Organic label? Until recently, the USDA allowed any certified organic product to include 5 percent nonorganic ingredients, provided those ingredients were hard to source. Last June, in an effort to close that loophole, the USDA narrowed that even further: the 5 percent "non-organic ingredients" must be from a pre-approved list of hard-to-source exceptions.

"If hops hadn't been included on that list, it would have been very tough for anyone in the U.S. to make organic beer in any quantity and many organic brewers would be in serious jeopardy," says Jon Cadoux, founder of Peak Organic Brewing Company of Portland, Maine. Though hops accounts for far less than 5 percent of a beer's ingredients (which are mostly grain) it's in short supply in the U.S., with most imported from New Zealand. That's one reason Peak Organic, along with Anheuser-Busch, petitioned the USDA to include hops.

In late June, the USDA list of 38 ingredients was published for review. Hops made the cut.

-David Lansing