The 2002 implementation of the National Organic standard and development of the USDA organic seal gave food advertisers a new tool with which to communicate food characteristics to consumers. Based principally on farm and manufacturing practices, the standard offers consumers an expansion of their food choices. Parents of young children have been shown to have particular interest in organic food. Using parent-targeted magazine-based food ads, this paper explores how organic has been promoted, how its advertising strategy compares to that for conventional foods, and whether organic food has been appropriately differentiated from conventional foods such that the USDA organic seal carries a significant and unique meaning to both consumers and the food industry. The content analysis shows that the period following the implementation of the National Organic Program exhibits a general upward trend in usage of health-related cues but minimal increase in use of terms associated with the "organic" ideal. A direct comparison of organic and non-organic food ads shows that there has been little leakage of terminology related to "organic" into mainstream food advertising strategy. Most importantly, we find that "organic" is intermixed with health cues, contributing to the often-found consumer perception that "organic" means "healthier," and suggesting that the goals of the NOP to offer consumers a clear definition and a way to reduce confusion have not been met in advertising strategy.
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