The reality:

Buzzwords like natural and sustainable tend to get lumped in with certifications, such as organic or cruelty-free. But natural and sustainable, as well as other terms like local, lack adequate definition and have little, if any, regulation to back them up. “USDA Organic is something you can trust because you can define it. The organic standards [set by the National Organic Program] are uniform,” says Batcha. As for local, “it can mean ‘made in the USA’ or it can mean it’s grown across the street. It’s totally subjective,” says Myra Goodman, co-founder of Earthbound Farm based in San Juan Bautista, California.

Perhaps because USDA Organic-certified products have gotten well into the mainstream in recent years (even Walmart has become a significant purveyor of organic goods), and because organic is big business (organic food and beverage sales reached $21.2 billion dollars last year, according to Nutrition Business Journal) some at the heart of the organic movement feel standards are too easily weakened by big business or that government regulations don’t go far enough to address current food-system woes, asking questions such as: Should relatively large-scale organic producers (the so-called “big box” operations) still be considered organic? What if cows aren’t let out to pasture or, worse, workers aren’t paid fairly? And can organic products imported from other countries be trusted?

“Organic deserves this kind of citizen inquiry, and we should feel good that there are whistle blowers out there,” says Scowcroft. “If someone is cutting corners, let’s shed light on that.” But he underscores that organic, unlike many others, is a regulated term. “You have a pretty clear idea of how that food was grown and what you’re eating.” See “A Brief History of Organic.”