Still super busy, but I caught this item while scanning my email newsletters and thought I’d pass it on.
From House Calls (Health and Wellness e-newsletter)
When “organic” is just a word on a label
If you’ve been paying a premium for organic food, then the latest news out of Washington is going to leave a bitter taste in your mouth.
A new report finds that foods bearing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic label aren’t being held to the higher standard that’s supposed to come with that higher price tag. This report doesn’t come from a political group with an axe to grind, an organization with an agenda, or even some radical seeking free attention.
It comes from within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The agency’s inspector general says the department has been unable or unwilling to enforce organic standards–even with companies that have been caught red-handed slapping an organic label on ordinary non-organic food.
The USDA has the power to levy fines against these firms and even strip them of their organic certification. But instead, it’s often doing nothing at all.
For example, the USDA caught one company selling non- organic mint as organic. Two years later, the department has yet to take any enforcement action at all, according to the inspector general.
In other cases, it has taken up to 32 months–nearly three years!–for the department to take action against companies found selling “organic” foods that didn’t actually meet organic standards.
And during that time, these companies continued to mislead the public by selling falsely labeled goods, almost certainly with those notorious organic price tags attached. Organic products can fetch between 30 percent and 110 percent more than their non-organic counterparts.
That’s a lot of money for an empty promise.
The inspector general also says the agents who issue organic certifications aren’t following consistent rules– which should surprise no one. After all, the agency itself hasn’t been consistent, frequently changing its own definition of what’s allowed and what’s not.
But the problems with organic foods don’t end there. In fact, the inspector general’s report is just the beginning.
Next time you consider buying frozen organic veggies, for example, take a closer look at the label. Many of these “organic” greens come from China. In theory, these foods are supposed to meet the same standards as organic vegetables grown here in the United States.
In reality–well, I’m sure you can see some of the issues with that. They’re having a hard enough time policing the food grown within our own borders.
But that’s not even the biggest problem.
I’ll bet you didn’t know that the USDA doesn’t even inspect imported foods. They let third-party companies handle that.
Even foods that meet USDA standards aren’t always 100 percent organic. Under the rules, packaged foods can contain up to 5 percent non-organic ingredients… and still earn an “organic” label.
That’s not the only deception. Just take a look at the company names–they often conjure up images of small farms and family operations, and maybe some of these once were.
In reality, many of these brands are now just Big Food in disguise: General Mills owns Cascadian Farms and Muir Glen, Kellogg owns Morningstar Farms and Kashi, Coca-Cola owns Odwalla, Dean Foods owns Horizon and Kraft owns Boca.
Of course, it’s very easy to see why they want in on this.
Organic foods did $24.6 billion in business in 2008 alone, with sales still growing in leaps and bounds. These foods make up the fastest-growing section of the supermarket– something you’ve probably seen for yourself as organics have gone from a shelf or two, to an aisle, to an entire department in many supermarkets over the past few years.
That doesn’t mean organic food is bad. Quite the opposite– true organic products are the best way to ensure that you’re feeding yourself and your family the healthiest food, especially if you stick to fresh meats and vegetables from a local farmers’ market and avoid questionable “organic” frozen foods and packaged meals.
Let the new report serve as a warning–as with anything else, you need to be a smart consumer and make informed decisions to ensure that you get what you’ve paid for.
Thanks for your attention.