Thursday, October 01, 2009

Is Industrial Organic an Oxymoron?

Fewer things made me more excited than when I finally became an owner of the Outpost Natural Foods Co-op. I L-O-V-E Outpost and I love a good sale. Finally! A dream realized! I was savoring the tidbits in this month's edition of the Outpost Exchange this week when I came across an article that demystified the language surrounding the labeling of organic products. The labels of “organic”, “natural”, “cage-free”, “free-range”, and etc. being seen on an increasing number of products hardly mean the same thing across the board. The truth is that, the article points out, as the organic industry expands and big food corporations acquire and form alliances with organic brands, the USDA standards of these labels often get skirted in the process.

A brief list of acquisitions:

· Pepsi -- Naked Juice

· Coca-Cola -- Odwalla

· Kellogg -- Morning Star, Bear Naked, Kashi

· Dean -- Horizon, Silk

· Kraft -- Back to Nature, Boca Foods

· Cadbury -- Green & Black’s

· General Mills -- Cascadian Farms, Muir Glen

· M&M Mars -- Seeds of Change

· Heinz -- Hain Celestial, Earth’s Best, Spectrum Organics, Imagine/Rice Dream/Soy Dream, etc.

Just this month, the USDA has proposed an amendment to the federal organic regulations directed at large-scale factory farms that market their products as organic. These factory farms have used loopholes of pasturing standards to drive their costs/prices down while the cattle still suffer through sub-par (to say the least) conditions. The article states that one of the best ways to tell if you are actually getting what you intend is the price. In other words, you get what you pay for. Also important is the certification labeling – look for USDA Organic, Fair Trade Certified, and Certified Humane, among others. I am in no way arguing against the expansion and availability of organic foods, but I think it’s important to make sure that what we’re being sold actually resembles what we are getting.

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