Label Libel

The word “organic” conjures images of the chips and salsa from Casa Nueva, and the average 19 cent price difference between two identical looking apples at Wal-Mart. The assumption is that organic food is supposedly better for you, and not chock-full of chemicals. What you might not know is the term technically means that the land the crops grew on has been free from synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and other potential toxins for at least three years.

With “going green” initiatives springing up like dandelions and consumers closely monitoring what they put in their bodies, it is no surprise that the organic food section is a rapidly growing department in most superstores, according to Wal-Mart’s chief-executive manager, H. Lee Scott Jr. In fact, consumer reports say organic is one of the fastest growing categories in the entire food business. Accused by skeptics as a ploy created by the food industry, there is no conclusive evidence showing that organic food is more beneficial to one’s health. So why did consumers of organic foods rise from half of the US population in 2004 to two-thirds in 2005?

OU sophomore Julia Huber says that she chooses to buy organic in order to avoid chemicals. Chemical fertilizers used to grow non-organic food have been associated with several types of cancer, nervous system damage and brain damage. Conventional farmers use these fertilizers and other chemical insecticides, such as toxic aerosols and emulsified concentrates, on their plants, and sometimes give livestock growth hormones, antibiotics and medications to prevent disease. Organic farmers swap these potentially harmful additives for natural fertilizers such as cottonseed meal and fish emulsion. Organic livestock eat only organic feed. In order for products to receive the coveted “USDA organic” approval sticker, farmers must meet government standards. However, many small farms, including some in Athens County, are exempt from the certification process if they sell less than $5,000 worth of organic produce a year. These small farms are still responsible for following government standards, but are not inspected periodically like larger operations.

receiptSeveral food producers are lobbying to make organic laws weaker by allowing farmers to call for “emergency exemptions” that would allow non-organic ingredients in organically labeled products, if the organic alternative is commercially unavailable. These amendments are supported by corporate giants, like Kraft, who are benefiting by bending the rules and charging more for products with an organic label. Not all organic food producers are behind these acts.  Michelle McGrath, a former vendor at the Athens Farmers Market, considers herself an organic farmer, although she does not sell enough to require the official certification. She does not use synthetic fertilizers or anything that could “harm herself or anyone else.”  Michelle described large food companies’ attempts to lower standards as “terrible” and said “it is scary that such a thing could happen.”

Many producers assume that consumers will take their claims at face value, and often find loopholes in the law. Claims on food labels such as “natural” or “all natural” mean absolutely nothing. There is no standard definition for these terms, and producers can make such claims with no certification. “Free range” does not necessarily mean your dinner was once frolicking in a field before it met its end. All it means is the animal was allowed access to the outdoors for an “undetermined amount of time.” Seafood claims are also an exception because there are no standards to follow. The label to look for is “organic,” which means none of the ingredients are synthetic.

As the popularity and price of organic foods increase, knowing how to read labels and knowing what they mean will ensure that you are getting what you pay for. Buying locally at the Athens Farmers Market, OU students will be able to support local producers and cut down harmful pesticide consumption, without breaking the bank.

The word “organic” conjures images of the chips and salsa from Casa Nueva, and the average 19 cent price difference between two identical looking apples at Wal-Mart. The assumption is that organic food is supposedly better for you, and not chock-full of chemicals. What you might not know is the term technically means that the land the crops grew on has been free from synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and other potential toxins for at least three years.

With “going green” initiatives springing up like dandelions and consumers closely monitoring what they put in their bodies, it is no surprise that the organic food section is a rapidly growing department in most superstores, according to Wal-Mart’s chief-executive manager, H. Lee Scott Jr. In fact, consumer reports say organic is one of the fastest growing categories in the entire food business. Accused by skeptics as a ploy created by the food industry, there is no conclusive evidence showing that organic food is more beneficial to one’s health. So why did consumers of organic foods rise from half of the US population in 2004 to two-thirds in 2005?

OU sophomore Julia Huber says that she chooses to buy organic in order to avoid chemicals. Chemical fertilizers used to grow non-organic food have been associated with several types of cancer, nervous system damage and brain damage. Conventional farmers use these fertilizers and other chemical insecticides, such as toxic aerosols and emulsified concentrates, on their plants, and sometimes give livestock growth hormones, antibiotics and medications to prevent disease. Organic farmers swap these potentially harmful additives for natural fertilizers such as cottonseed meal and fish emulsion. Organic livestock eat only organic feed. In order for products to receive the coveted “USDA organic” approval sticker, farmers must meet government standards. However, many small farms, including some in Athens County, are exempt from the certification process if they sell less than $5,000 worth of organic produce a year. These small farms are still responsible for following government standards, but are not inspected periodically like larger operations.

receiptSeveral food producers are lobbying to make organic laws weaker by allowing farmers to call for “emergency exemptions” that would allow non-organic ingredients in organically labeled products, if the organic alternative is commercially unavailable. These amendments are supported by corporate giants, like Kraft, who are benefiting by bending the rules and charging more for products with an organic label. Not all organic food producers are behind these acts.  Michelle McGrath, a former vendor at the Athens Farmers Market, considers herself an organic farmer, although she does not sell enough to require the official certification. She does not use synthetic fertilizers or anything that could “harm herself or anyone else.”  Michelle described large food companies’ attempts to lower standards as “terrible” and said “it is scary that such a thing could happen.”

Many producers assume that consumers will take their claims at face value, and often find loopholes in the law. Claims on food labels such as “natural” or “all natural” mean absolutely nothing. There is no standard definition for these terms, and producers can make such claims with no certification. “Free range” does not necessarily mean your dinner was once frolicking in a field before it met its end. All it means is the animal was allowed access to the outdoors for an “undetermined amount of time.” Seafood claims are also an exception because there are no standards to follow. The label to look for is “organic,” which means none of the ingredients are synthetic.

As the popularity and price of organic foods increase, knowing how to read labels and knowing what they mean will ensure that you are getting what you pay for. Buying locally at the Athens Farmers Market, OU students will be able to support local producers and cut down harmful pesticide consumption, without breaking the bank.

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About Lindsay Bailey

Hi, I'm a senior public relations major/English minor at West Virginia University. I'm interested in writing, camping and having fun. View all posts by Lindsay Bailey

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