But mom...they're organic...can't I have the cookies?
These days smart consumers are reading their labels. The one label that has always been the one to look for was the "organic" label. Unfortunately nowadays just because something say's it's organic does not mean that much. Some organic farmers and activists say that in the United States the organic label, once the symbol of foods produced by environmentally friendly means, has with time been cheapened into a gimmicky marketing tool.
I went to Costco the other day out of curiosity and was blown away by all the "organic" and "natural" products that they were selling there. Everything from "organic" Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, to "organic" Heinz ketchup, Frito-Lay natural "Doritos" and "natural" Cheetos it was quite a plethora of new "organic" and natural health foods right?" .
A lot of consumers have mistakenly thought that if the label says it's organic or natural than it must be healthy and must mean it's sustainably produced and all natural. Just like I know several people who think if they bought the item at Whole Foods or some other "health food" store than it must be healthy.
There was a study done at Cornell University where researchers offered cookies to student volunteers. Some got plain cookies and others got "organic" cookies. Then they were quizzed after wards and many of the students were boasting to the researchers how they carefully read food labels and how they always try to buy organic etc.
These so-called careful organic shoppers went on and on and on about just how much better those organic cookies were versus the non-organic ones. They believed their special cookies had 40 percent fewer calories than the non-organic ones. They also said these cookies looked better, tasted better and had more fiber.
The truth was however that they were all fed the exact same cookies. However, the perceived value of these cookies went up dramatically just because they had the label "organic" on them.
I have news for you..just because something say's it's organic does not mean it's healthy. White flour and white sugar whether they're "organic" or not does not make it healthy. You need to read these labels that are giving the picture of what you're really buying. Organic processed food is still processed food.
Just because it's organic cereal with organic sugar does not make it healthy!
These large companies and agribusinesses have jumped on the "organic" bandwagon because there are large profits to be had from consumers who mistakenly think they're eating "health food" because it's "organic" and with a relaxed "organic" standard don't be so sure it's good for the environment either.
Don't get me wrong, of course I'm all for truly organic healthy foods, pesticide-free vegetables and fruits, but after seeing all these boxes of processed "organic" food in the grocery it really makes me wonder what the consumer thinks they're buying?
There seems to have been a mad rush to slap an “organic” label on everything in sight, from cookies to clothing, and in most cases you’re just paying for that label.
That word has been slapped onto everything… so now it how much does it mean?
Look closely at some of those labels… you’ll find frozen “organic” food from China and organic junk food like those cookies clogging up supermarket aisles.
Meanwhile, genuine organic U.S. farmers can’t use that same label… because they can’t afford the certification process.
It’s a joke, the ones who are laughing are the large corporate millionaires selling their processed "organic" junk making you think you're eating healthy.
There are lobbyists for the agribusiness and large multi-national corporations that since 2002 when the USDA took over the organic standards label that have been trying to weaken the organic standard. A weakened organic standard helps big business and hurts consumers.
According to a Washington Post article:
"Three years ago, U.S. Department of Agriculture employees determined that synthetic additives in organic baby formula violated federal standards and should be banned from a product carrying the federal organic label. Today the same additives, purported to boost brainpower and vision, can be found in 90 percent of organic baby formula."
"Relaxation of the federal standards, and an explosion of consumer demand, have helped push the organics market into a $23 billion-a-year business, the fastest growing segment of the food industry. Half of the country's adults say they buy organic food often or sometimes, according to a survey last year by the Harvard School of Public Health.
But the USDA program's shortcomings mean that consumers, who at times must pay twice as much for organic products, are not always getting what they expect: foods without pesticides and other chemicals, produced in a way that is gentle to the environment."
"Under the original organics law, 5 percent of a USDA-certified organic product can consist of non-organic substances, provided they are approved by the National Organic Standards Board. That list has grown from 77 to 245 substances since it was created in 2002. Companies must appeal to the board every five years to keep a substance on the list, explaining why an organic alternative has not been found. The goal was to shrink the list over time, but only one item has been removed so far."
Don't be fooled...into believing the just because something has the word "organic" or "natural" on it that it's good for you or good for the environment.
Consumers can’t trust the USDA Organic logo and must instead seek out reputable companies who maintain high standards and avoid synthetic additives. In general, avoiding processed foods and purchasing from local farmers is the safest way to ensure your food is truly organic.
“100% organic” - single ingredient such as a fruit, vegetable, meat, milk and cheese (excludes water and salt).
“Organic” - multiple ingredient foods which are 95 to 100% organic.
“Made with organic ingredients” - 70% of the ingredients are organic. Can appear on the front of package, naming the specific ingredients.
“Contains organic ingredients” - contains less than 70% organic ingredients.
To say the least, organic labeling is both complicated and confusing. However only those products that meet the '100% organic' and 'organic' criteria are allowed to carry the USDA Organic seal. Furthermore, the USDA emphasizes that the term 'organic' is not synonymous to 'natural' or 'all-natural'.
Here's a great chart from the Corucopia Institute that you download to see just how the large companies are now taking over the organic standard.
Click the picture below to access the full size chart!
Stick to the basics, avoid processed foods altogether because just because they're organic doesn't mean a whole lot in terms of health. I always like the foods that don't need to have labels in the first place..stick to the produce aisle because that's the only place in the store where there's truly "health food".
Ideally get your produce from a local farm, coop, farmers market or CSA. The produce tends to be fresher and your supporting the local economy and lessening use of natural resources and pollution. Locally grown is the way to go! Support your local farmers and start growing your own food!
Don't know where your local farmers markets are or CSA's visit the Local Harvest website by clicking here.
Post below what do you think about the "organic" foods showing up all over the place?
Like this article please share it with your friends! Re-tweet, post on facebook share on digg! Let's spread the word!
Business Week. The Organic Myth. 16 October 2006.
Cornucopia Institute. Mislabeling Organic Food at Wal-Mart. January 2007.
Cornucopia Institute. Organic Industry Structure: Acquisitions by the Top 30 Food Processors in North America.
Kindy K and Layton L. USDA organic label comes under fire. LA Times 3 July 2009.
Merchant B. Has the 'Organic' Label Become the Biggest Greenwashing Campaign in the US? Tree Hugger. 3 July 2009.
NC State University. What Does the "Organic" Label Really Mean?. North Carolina Cooperative Extension.
NOP. Filing a Petition: The National List Petition Process.
NOP. National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.
NOP. USDA Accredited Certifying Agents
Organic Consumers Association Press Release. 10 November 2005.
The Daily Green. 38 Non-Organic Ingredients Found in 'USDA Organic' Foods. 19 July 2007
Warner M. What Is Organic? Powerful Players Want a Say. The New York Times, 1 November 2005.
WebWire. Judge’s Ruling Fuels Meltdown in Organic Dairy Industry. 9 June 2009