Did you know: until recently USDA certified organic beer did not have to be made with organic hops?
I recently did some digging into the Washington State hop industry (which produces 79% of all hops grown in the U.S.), and unexpectedly unearthed a reason to keep the faith in the power of individuals to affect policy change!
Until very recently The USDA allowed breweries to label their beer ‘organic’ even if the hops they used to produce it were not grown organically. The Seattle Times published an article on this in October 2010, highlighting the push by organic hop growers to change these label laws. According to this article, the USDA approved the use of conventional hops in organically labeled beer in 2007 because organic hop production was not prevalent enough to meet demand. The American Organic Hop Growers Association, along with farmers and a few brewers, petitioned this ruling with the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) on December 8, 2009, arguing that the organic sector has grown enough, and will continue to grow to meet that demand, and should therefore be reflected in labeling and brewer accountability.
The NOSB is a committee appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture, responsible for making recommendations to the USDA regarding organics.
Shortly after this article was published the NOSB reviewed the petition, and ruled that conventional hops should be removed from the National List – the list of conventional products allowed in organic food production – by January 1, 2013. Their reasoning for the delay was that “this time interval formally recognizes the growth of organic hops’ availability and yet allows brewers two growing seasons to secure their organic hops through forward contracting, making adjustments to future product formulations and specifications, and preparing their customers and consumers for the product changes anticipated… This recommendation will also provide immediate encouragement and market demand for those organic suppliers who claim to have unsold organic hops in storage” (p. 2). This recommendation was approved 13-1 by the NOSB.
The American Organic Hop Grower Association is a non-profit organization that represents hop growers and brewers nationwide in an effort to unite them behind the organic cause. (Because most of the hops produced in the U.S. are grown in Yakima Valley, a majority of their farming members are based out of Washington.) Their mission is to help farmers improve the quality and variety of their organic hop crops, and to raise awareness among brewers of those crops. They seek to unite growers and brewers in order to grow demand for domestically produced organic hops, and to improve the marketability of both the hops and the beer.
According to a “Profile of Organic Crops in Washington State – 2008” produced by WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington hop farmers planted 54 acres of certified organic hops in 2008, up from 4 acres in 2004.
We will not know the effects of the NOSB ruling until data becomes available for 2013 and preceding years, but it looks like the organic hop industry is gaining ground in Washington State, thanks to the efforts of individuals working together to demand policy change! Keep your eyes open for signs of positive change; you never know where inspiration might be found!