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Report Says Organic Label Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

Grocery shopping these days can take all day if you spend the time to read every label, consider every farm story behind the product, and balance out the perceived benefits of those claims to what your food budget allows. I believe that both the blessing and the curse of today’s American food system is that we have so much choice. When our grandparents went to market, they bought such commodity basics as eggs, flour, milk, meat and sugar. With those basics, they created homemade meals from scratch; there was little thought to the ethics of production, or the safety, nutrition and environmental impact of the staples they purchased.

However, many of today’s shoppers think about all those concepts as they put food in their grocery carts. Brands, niche markets and different production methods evolved and flourished as a way for farmers and ranchers to earn a premium for producing something different. Due to societal trends and concerns, consumers wanted to learn more about their food and the people who produced it. And the better-heeled, at least, were willing to pay more for what they thought were higher-quality foods.

Somewhere along the way in the competition for consumers, the rhetoric changed from positive to negative. Organic, natural, grass-fed -- you name it -- began to target traditionally raised, conventional foods using fear-mongering to get folks to pay more for a “safer, healthier” product. Pushed by popular media, such misinformation and misconceptions are now commonly perceived as fact.


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Despite the fact that USDA has repeatedly made statements that organic is not a healthier or safer food choice than conventional, consumers have been told otherwise in organic’s marketing claims.

“Let me be clear about one thing. The organic label is a marketing tool. It is not a statement about food safety. Nor is organic a value judgment about nutrition or quality,” said USDA Secretary Dan Glickman in December 2000.

According to Food Navigator USA, “The organic food industry has been engaged in a multi-decade public disinformation campaign, a new report claims. The report -- which has been strongly criticized by the organic food lobby -- is based on a view of 200+ published academic, industry, and government research reports into why consumers buy organic foods.”

The report concludes that, “Consumers have spent years paying over the odds for organic foods based on the erroneous belief -- promulgated by stakeholders with a vested interest -- that they are healthier and safer than their conventional counterparts.” You can read the article here, and see the full report here.

While I support any and every way we can reach consumers and meet their demands, I would have to agree that negative attacks on conventional production have been a staple of organic's marketing programs. The result is that many of today’s consumers fear the products of conventional agriculture. Many moms I've visited with have told me they feel guilty if they can’t afford organic to feed their children. Worries about hormones, chemicals, toxins, animal abuse and more seem to be ubiquitous.

What do you think the best solution is for reassuring the general public about conventionally raised food? How can we best support all types of food production without slamming one method over another? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or the Penton Farm Progress Group.


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