What lies in the label?

So, you thought it’s time to turn organic. You start with the obvious changes – groceries. You drive that extra distance to the only health food store in the area, replacing all the regular products you usually buy, with organic counterparts. Goodbye Maple All Nut Crunch, hello Organic Coconut Muesli.

You now start your mornings the organic way. Munching away, you stare aimlessly at the box, reading all the little bits of goodness. Wait, what’s this? The ingredients list hums a different tune to the ‘organic’ label. In fact, it’s not entirely organic at all. Except the coconut. Everything else is as conventional as the Maple Crunch. At a premium price tag!

Angry, embarrassed, cheated – you ask yourself, how can the manufacturers get away with such deceitful labeling?

The system of organic labeling is not as black and white as we would assume it to be. Products can technically get away with being labeled organic, when really only a few ingredients adhere to the true meaning.

Down to Basics

Organic means that food has been produced and processed naturally, without chemicals or pesticides, without synthetic aid.

Somewhere along the road, ‘organic’ has lost its holistic definition. The organic food industry became a big, green money machine and the very corporations we are trying to avoid moved in and used their power to push for a more federal definition of ‘organic’. A sneaky way of taking more of our cash, for virtually the same products available in commercial supermarkets.

Most countries have their own boards, overseen by the government, that determine whether a product is organic or conventional. Depending on where the product has been produced, it is subject to that country’s ‘organic’ guidelines. Imported organic products are then again regulated by the receiving countries organizations.

Each country has their own symbol to mark a certified organic food product. The most widely recognizable are the green and black USDA Organic labels, a seal of approval designed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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The Wording Game

Clever wording on packages and labels can sway our judgment. Terms such as ‘free range’, ‘hormone free’ or ‘natural’ are not to be confused with ‘organic’. For example, ‘free range chickens’ simply means the birds have access to outdoor areas. Yet there is no law that regulates their feed, how they are cared for and third-party certification is not necessary. Organic chickens have all these four points policed by law.

Other terms and symbols to beware of include; earth friendly, farm friendly and eco friendly, among others. Some are alternates to the government certifying organisations that do not carry the same standards. They are also often subsidized with grants from large corporations looking to expand their conventional food lines and infiltrate the organic food industry.

Somewhere along the road, ‘organic’ has lost its holistic definition.

The Loopholes

Before you start buying every product with the certified seal, there are a few things to know. More than 240 non-organic ingredients exist on an approved list of ingredients that can be used in products stamped with the coveted ‘certified organic’ label. This has grown from 77 items since 2002, just as the organic food industry started to grow. These ingredients are synthetic, derived from not so organic things such as fossil fuels and most have been proven to not be necessary in the production, but simply used for cost cutting or to facilitate the manufacturing process.

Products labeled as ‘organic’ or ‘made with organic ingredients’ still leave room for 5-30% of the ingredients being subject to non-organic practices. This means pesticides, hormones, antibiotics…everything ‘organic’ is originally running away from.

Stay Smart

Don’t let a label decide for you. Read the ingredients list using common sense. If you don’t know what an ingredient is, why put it in your body? Whilst certification organisations act as our organic police, they are not there to mother our knowledge. Use organic certification to guide you in choosing products and initiate further personal research. The only person responsible for your health and wellbeing, is you.

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