In a recent expose on the politically-charged business of organic food production, Salon.com notes that the U.S. government will begin allowing qualifying organic food marketers to use the new “USDA Organic” label on October 21. This move should effectively draw a bold line between those marketers who are actually following all the arcane and costly rules of organic food production, and those who are just trying to catch a free ride on the tails of the “natural food” movement.

In the “unintended consequences” column, astute consumers may come to use the green-and-white government “organic” label as a subtle price warning — kind of the opposite of the ubiquitous supermarket “on sale” placard. The Wall Street Journal included a handy chart along with a recent story on the issue, showing just how much more expensive some certified-organic products are. If you like cottage cheese and you live in Atlanta, you’d better be prepared to pay 88 percent more for the organic variety. Organic milk carries an 85 percent price-tag premium in New York City. And a whole organic chicken in California, says the Journal, can cost a whopping 231 percent as much as a conventional bird.

Californians are becoming more and more familiar with organic foods’ high prices. The San Jose Mercury News reported last week that elementary schools in Palo Alto (that’s Stanford University’s neighborhood) will start offering organic lunches as an option this fall. The new kiddie foods, says the Mercury News, “are expected to cost… almost twice as much as the other cafeteria meals.”

Not surprisingly, the Palo Alto “organic initiative” is being pushed by Jesse Cool, a San Francisco area welfare mother turned celebrity chef. Cool is a prominent member of Chefs Collaborative — the national organization of like-minded culinary busybodies whose costly organic-only orthodoxy (usually served up in $100+ portions) is apparently reaching the young and impressionable.