Some 56 percent say they buy organic food. The most popular reason is that they think it is healthier. They also say it is more natural, avoids pesticides, avoids GMOs, is safer, is better for them, and is better for animal welfare. Others cite family and friends or doctors as steering them toward organic foods.
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Explore This IssueOctober/November 2018
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The forthcoming poll found people who don’t buy organic think it is too expensive or isn’t any healthier or safer than conventional food.
Millennials turn out to value organics the most, buying more organic food and willingly paying higher prices for it.
Labeling: What’s in a Word?
With so many choices of organic foods—more than 400 alone to buy at Walmart, for example—and so much money at stake, some experts question whether marketers are taking advantage of overwhelmed consumers with ingredients included on their labels.
The controversy over labels has been brewing for several years, but it came to a head in August with an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal by Henry Miller, MS, MD, a former FDA official who, among other things, founded that organization’s Office of Biotechnology. Dr. Miller is now the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
In the Journal’s opinion piece entitled “The Organic Industry is Lying to You,” Dr. Miller asserts that FDA is uneven in its policing of organic labels. As an example, he wrote that FDA warned a Massachusetts bakery about including the word “love” in its ingredient’s list. And the Whole Foods website, he said, claims organic foods are grown “without toxic or persistent pesticides.” Dr. Miller wrote that organic farmers do sometimes rely on synthetic and natural pesticides to grow their crops. Some of the pesticides are produced by the plants to defend themselves.
One of Dr. Millet’s biggest complaints was the so-called “absence claims”—for instance, labeling a food like orange juice that has no fat to begin with as “fat free.” Dr. Miller wrote that FDA usually comes down hard on such claims because to claim something is absent it must be present in the first place.
He said the non-GMO label is a particular offender in labeling, for example, there is a non-GMO label on Hunt’s canned crushed tomatoes even though there are no genetically modified organism tomatoes on the market.
“Consumers need aggressive FDA action to curb these abuses and level the playing field,” Dr. Miller wrote.
“The FDA isn’t enforcing its labeling mandate,” he tells Food Quality & Safety.
Dr. Miller says the term organic does not imply the health of a food, and he sees it being used as a marketing tool to the detriment of some consumers who can barely afford to buy food products.
“Studies show people in poor neighborhoods may be avoiding fresh food because they can’t afford organic, which they think is healthier,” he says.
Dr. Miller’s op-ed drew strong letter responses in The Wall Street Journal from both the Center for Food Safety, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit environmental advocacy program, and the Organic Trade Association.
“The organic industry isn’t hiding anything,” wrote Cameron Harsh, organic and animal programs director at the Center for Food Safety, in a response to Dr. Miller’s commentary. “The truth is organic farming has a baseline prohibition of harmful chemicals. Transparent processes are required by law allowing certain synthetic products to be used only when all other measures have failed.
“They must go through rigorous, public review to prove their use ‘would not be harmful to human health or the environment’ and must be re-reviewed every five years,” he added. “We aren’t being duped; choosing organic is the best way to reduce dietary exposure to pesticides.”