Amid unprecedented fanfare this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has begun allowing food companies to label their offerings as “organic.” Of the top 50 newspapers in America, at least 45 have printed feature stories or editorials on the subject since Friday, totaling over 53,000 words.

Most of that coverage promoted the myth that “organic” means “better” — even though the USDA says plainly that the new label “makes no claim that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food.” Only three major newspapers (out of 45) bothered to point that out.

Meanwhile organic and anti-biotech food activists, bereft of scientific merit, pound their drumbeat onward. Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association went out of his way to torture the truth in a recent press release, claiming that “products bearing the ‘USDA Organic’ label are certainly safer and better than conventional food.” The Organic Trade Association has even gone on record claiming that the new standards will bring about “an unprecedented era for… public health.”

Other commentators are more honest, but their words still betray the real meaning behind the new “USDA Organic” label. Organic cookbook author Elaine Lipson told the Boulder Daily Camera that “the reasons to buy organic are environmental reasons,” and that “the health question is really tough.” And Sandra Steingraber, an activist and Organic Trade Association spokesperson, told the Associated Press on Sunday that buying organic “is a little like tithing to a church.”

Speaking of religious fervor, the uncompromising Chefs Collaborative (CC) is crowing about the new organic standards as well. CC’s Peter Hoffman told New York Newsday that his organization is “on the forefront of championing [organic] products,” saying that only organic produce is “the right product” to serve.

For a welcome bit of intelligent reasoning, we recommend a Q-and-A on organic foods and their mythical benefits published by the Center for Global Food Issues, a project of the Hudson Institute.