When you purchase a product with the USDA organic seal on it, did you know that only 95 percent of that product has to be made from organic ingredients? Ingredients that are approved to be nonorganic in a certified food have to either be impossible to get organically, like salt, or too difficult to get enough of in the organic form. Either way, the nonorganic ingredients cannot make up more than 5 percent of the weight of the food, excluding water.

One of the ingredients on the exceptions list is hops. In 2007, several organic beer makers petitioned the USDA, arguing there weren’t enough organic hops available to meet the growing demand for organic beer. The USDA granted the exception, and for the past three years, beer makers have been permitted to make certified organic beer without organic hops, and without any indication on the label that not all of the ingredients are organic.

The ruling caused a problem for existing organic hops growers. If organic beer makers aren’t required to use organic hops, of course the majority of them are going to choose to use the less expensive nonorganic hops. Without demand, it’s not likely that farmers will ever choose to grow enough organic hops for the amount of organic beer produced each year.

Oregon Live reports that the farmers who have chosen to continue growing organic hops have worked hard to get the hops exception overturned. Pat Leavy, president of the American Organic Hop Grower Association, and his colleagues have convinced the USDA to vote on a mandate that would “mandate organic hops in organic beer in about three years.” They believe it is likely to get passed.

Organic beer manufacturers have concerns that organic hops growers won’t be able to produce enough of the product to meet current production needs. Leavy believes that in the three years before organic hops would be required, the industry would have the time to expand.

Perhaps, if the USDA drops the nonorganic hops exception, this would be an opportunity for those looking to get into organic farming. It seems there will be a need. 

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Organic beer isn't all organic, yet
The USDA is considering requiring that hops in organic beer are actually organic.