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    “Certified Organic” — Read the small print!

    If you can’t trust a business like Whole Foods, who can you trust? Its 175 stores cater to organic foods (and they also boast that much of what you are buying is locally grown or produced). So, the extra we pay to promote our own health is well worth it. Right? Well, not necessarily…

    Turns out consumers can be mislead when it comes to packaging. And, again, it’s about that pesky small print more often that we like to admit. By law the country of origin has to appear somewhere—but the size and intensity of the coloring is apparently unspecified.

    The ABC-7 Investigative Team discovered a while back that on the flip side of some packaged food is printed, in very tiny letters and at the bottom, “Product of China.” Among the Whole Foods products from China are frozen veggies (snap peas, chopped spinach, asparagus, bell pepper strips, green beans, broccoli florets, fava beans, green beans okra—all listed as certified organic) as well as several styles of peanut butter.

    So, what’s the problem?

    In order to be certified organic in our country, many criteria pertain. Here is the latest definition update modified just this last week.

    Organic certification was developed in recognition of the necessity for consistent standards across the U.S for the benefit of producers, processors, wholesalers, retailers, and consumers. Prior to establishment of federal guidelines for organic certification in 2002, a multitude of agencies and associations throughout the U.S. maintained a divergent list of acceptable inputs, production methods, and policies to determine organic certification. Differences in the certification standards invited marketing inconsistencies, misunderstandings, and misrepresentations concerning organic products. Organic certification now sanctions the marketing of “USDA Organic” products produced under consistent guidelines and standards across the U.S.

    I think most consumers would assume that if a product carries the “USDA Organic” logo on the front of its package that it was grown in our country. Organic crop farming criteria include biological pest management with no synthetic chemicals, antibiotics, or hormones. The USDA’s National Organic Program [NOP] regulates standards for farms, wild crop harvesting, and handling operation that want to sell an agricultural product as organically produced. BUT, the USDA does NOT inspect or directly certify imported foods. Yet Whole Foods displays the USDA Organic label smack dab on the front of the package of its veggies from China.

    Whole Foods told the ABC-7 reporter that it gives a private company by the name Quality Assurance International [QAI] the job of making sure their foreign foods are certified organic. However at the time this story broke, QAI had not certified any crops in China, even though the Whole Foods package also sports a QAI seal. Whole Foods then told the ABC-7 investigative team that they relied on a third party to certify the products from China, but would not divulge any further detail.

    What certification process does China comply with?

    The short version is that this international organic certification business is much more about massive paperwork and sheer faith that complex relationships among multiple entities that actually inspect and test food products to verify that they comply with organic standards.

    It’s important for consumers to note that inspection, according to the NOP, does not necessarily mean that the product was tested.

    Products with organic ingredient content of 95% or higher may apply an “ORGANIC” label on the products, their packages, or tags. Products with organic ingredient content greater than 70% but less than 95%  may apply a label saying “MADE FROM ORGANIC INGREDIENTS” on the products, packages, or tags.

    So, I want to know how the 70% products are marked once they get here—and what could the other 30% be?

    After the tainted dog food and baby formula and other scares regarding Chinese products, it’s hard to put full trust in what actually gets put on the boat.  I also admit that Whole Food vegetables do not necessarily have any problems—it’s just that it is very unclear as to whether anyone really knows.

    Perhaps a new label should be considered —   “THIS PRODUCT COULD POSSIBLY BE ORGANIC.”

    Health and happiness,


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