Recently I noticed Stonyfield's label had switched from "natural" to "organic." What's the difference? More than you might think.
Basically, natural just means the product was made with no artificial ingredients. Organic means the product was made without the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers or antibiotics and no genetically modified organisms. It's especially complicated when dealing with dairy products, because grazing land and feed cannot be treated with chemical fertilizers or persistent toxic pesticides for a period of three years.
For Stonyfield, it was no accident that their suppliers were able to meet the stringent organic requirements:
Stonyfield Farm and Organic Valley/CROPP have worked together in recent years to further encourage organic conversion. In addition to establishing a transition fund to provide monetary support for farmers during the conversion process and providing more staff to work directly with farmers, the companies scheduled hundreds of procurement and membership retention events, and sponsored organic workshops and conferences for farmers. Stonyfield CE-Yo Gary Hirshberg and his wife, Meg, also contributed $100,000 to a loan fund to supply needed support to organic farm families, and Stonyfield Farm was the lead sponsor, with a gift of $450,000, of the nation's first land grant-based organic dairy farm, at the University of New Hampshire.You can read the short version of Stonyfield's organic process on the Stonyfield website or the long version in the Stonyfield Organic Guide booklet.
Packaging with confusing claims can make it difficult to tell what's really organic. You can easily tell what's organic and what's not by looking for the USDA's organic seal. The USDA's website has an extensive rundown of the procedures for a product's organic certification. Wikipedia also has a thorough explanation of organic practices and benefits.