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Organic Labeling Check

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Organic is a regulated term and watchdog groups are actively watching to make sure producers and retailers alike don’t abuse this label. Recently, The Cornucopia Institute filed a formal complaint with the USDA's organic program alleging that Target misled consumers into thinking some conventional food items it sells are organic.

In one example provided by the organization, Target nationally advertised Silk brand soymilk in newspapers with the term organic pictured on the carton’s label. But Silk manufacturer Dean Foods has shifted their products away from organics.

This is not the first time The Cornucopia Institute has targeted retailers. In 2006, the group filed complaints with federal and state regulators against Wal-Mart, also alleging misrepresentation of conventional food as organic with improper signage in their stores.

Surveys show the public is unclear about the difference between natural and organic, as well as related labels used in the wellness industry. That’s bad enough, but think about this: If the general public is unclear, your staff may be too. And where there’s confusion, there are often mistakes. For retailers, it’s especially important to remain vigilant.

Be sure employees understand the difference between organic products and those with natural claims, and emphasize the importance of accurate promotion — not only from the consumer perspective, but from a legal one, too.

USDA-approved organic labels first appeared on store shelves in October 2002. Use of the word organic became regulated, and producers that met certain standards were allowed to display the USDA Organic seal.

From then on, producers could make use of the following claims:

• 100% Organic.

• Organic. Product is at least 95% organic by weight, excluding salt and water.

• Made with Organic. Product is at least 70% organic, may list up to three organic ingredients on main panel; may NOT display USDA seal.

• For products with less than 70% organic content, producers may list organic ingredients on the ingredient panel, but not on the main portion of the packaging; may not display USDA seal.

To qualify for the USDA’s organic seal, food producers must meet a strict set of farm and food-handling standards. The use of the term natural is largely not regulated. While we here at Mambo Sprouts only work with legitimate natural producers, plenty of manufacturers are manipulating the term — after all, the organics market is a $23 billion-a-year business right now, still the fastest-growing segment of the food industry.

So don’t get caught lumping “natural” products under a large organics banner. A natural foods product section can contain organic products, but not the other way around. More advisable are in-store educational campaigns that help consumers self-educate regarding the difference among organic and natural food product labeling.

Retailers are, in fact, are liable for misusing the term organic. But beyond possible fines, retails face loss of customer affinity when organic-savvy consumers spot the mistake.

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