Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Communication Studies

Department or School/College

Department of Communication Studies

Committee Chair

Steve Schwarze


definitional authority, definitional disputes, local food, USDA standards, food literacy, organic food


University of Montana


Since the inception of the National Organic Program (NOP) housed within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the substantial growth of the organic food market has garnered both enthusiasm and criticism. While large farm operations and food companies boast a significant reduction in the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers as a result of more crop land being converted to organic production, small-scale organic farmers are feeling the financial pinch as industry takes over the once niche market. The USDA has received much criticism for defining organic in a way that appears to favor special interests, including industrial-size organic operations, as imposed standards are highly technical, scientific, and focus considerably on what substances, both synthetic and non-synthetic, may be used in organic food production, handling, and processing. Unable to compete with the dominant big organic growers, small-scale organic farmers are recognizing the USDA’s narrow definition of organic in comparison to the many meanings the movement once espoused. They promote eating, local, sustainably-grown food as an alternative to industrial organics. A review of the history of the organic food movement in the U.S. from Rodale to USDA codification is included. Major criticisms are delineated and discussed. Literature on definitional disputes is applied to these criticisms and utilized to interpret the response to the USDA codification of organic on the local level. Example responses from Western Montana are discussed. Finally, a “Consumers’ Organic Food Literacy Packet” is developed based on the research in an effort to promote consumer literacy of organic foods that further contributes to food citizenry and democracy.



© Copyright 2007 Jennifer Ann von Sehlen