Daily News Archive
From January 13, 2006                                                                                                        

Consumers Union Makes Organic Recommendations
(Beyond Pesticides, January 13, 2006)
An investigation for the February 2006 issue of "Consumer Reports" makes recommendations on when it is most important for shoppers to buy organic foods from the perspective of a personal health benefit. Beyond Pesticides recommends buying organic whenever possible. Aside from consumer health issues, organic agriculture benefits the health of farmworkers and those who live near farms, as well as contributing to a cleaner environment.

Among some of the recommendations "Consumer Reports" gives shoppers about organic products:

  • Organic products worth buying to avoid chemicals found in the conventionally produced versions: Fruits and vegetables, such as apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, spinach, and strawberries. The USDA's own lab testing reveals that even after washing, some fruits and vegetables consistently carry much higher levels of pesticide residue than others. Meats, poultry, eggs, and dairy products are also worth seeking out.
  • Organic products worth buying only if price is no object, include: processed foods and certain produce items, such as: cauliflower, sweet corn, broccoli, mangos, and sweet peas. Multiple pesticide residues are, in general, rarely found on conventionally grown versions of these fruits and vegetables, according to research by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
  • Organically labeled items not worth buying include seafood and cosmetics. Whether caught in the wild or farmed, fish can be labeled organic, despite the presence of contaminants such as mercury and PCBs. The USDA has not yet developed organic certification standards for seafood. And while the USDA claims that organic labeled-cosmetics follow the same standards as food, Consumer Reports has found indiscriminate use of synthetic ingredients and violations of food-labeling standards.

The article also found that because of inconsistent and often weak government standards, organic-sounding labels could be confusing to consumers and even meaningless on some products due to lack of enforcement. Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., Environmental Health Scientist at Consumers Union, publisher of "Consumer Reports," says, "Not all organic products are created equal. It is important that consumers know where their organic dollars spent meet their expectations and where they don't."

Even among the most meaningful and verified organic labels, there are subtle but important differences. If a product is labeled "organic," at least 95 percent of its ingredients must be organically produced. There is one important exception, however: organic labels on seafood are meaningless because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has no standards to back them up. Also meaningless is the label "natural" or "all natural." No standard definition for these terms exists except when it's applied to meat and poultry products, which the USDA defines as not containing any artificial flavoring, colors, chemical preservatives, or synthetic ingredients, and even those claims are not independently verified.

Organic Without Breaking the Bank

"As soaring consumer demand for organic brings more big players into the industry, organic standards are under attack, so it's more important than ever to know how to prioritize your spending to get the biggest bang for your buck," says Andrea Rock, senior editor at "Consumer Reports."

The experts at "Consumer Reports" found many ways to save when buying organic, including

  • Comparison shop -- Doing price checks for regularly purchased organic items pays off: "Consumer Reports" found the price for the same jar of organic baby food ranged from 69 cents to $1.29 among several grocery stores in the suburban New York City area.
  • Go local -- Find organic growers at most farmers' markets. A USDA study in 2002 found that about 40 percent of those farmers don't charge a premium.
  • Join the farm team -- By buying a share in a community- supported organic farm consumers may get a weekly supply of produce in season for less than non-organic supermarket prices.
  • Order by mail -- National providers will ship items such as organic beef http://www.mynaturalbeef.com. Other helpful sites are http://www.eatwellguide.org and http://www.theorganicpages.com.

Consumers interested in learning more about the health and environmental benefits of organic foods can visit http://www.GreenerChoices.org. Information about food labels is available at http://www.eco-labels.org. Also see Beyond Pesticides Organic Issue page.