Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | December 24, 2007

Playing the organic foods game

U.S. organic food sales reached almost $17 billion in 2006, a gain of more than 22 percent, says a recent survey by the Organic Trade Association.

But some producers are less interested in good nutrition than in capitalizing on the American consumer’s appetite for all things organic. In hopes of tapping into the growing organic market, some of these companies use misleading labels to lure customers.

Here’s a crash course in label-reading from Consumer Reports


“100 percent organic.” Translation: By law, a product with this label has to be made entirely of certified organic ingredients, produced in accordance with federal organic standards, and include no synthetics.

Conclusion: You get what you pay for.

“Organic.” Translation: Products bearing this label are required to contain no less than 95 percent certified organic ingredients. The remaining 5 percent: Nonorganic and synthetic ingredients.

Conclusion: Good and (mostly) good for you.

“Made with organic ingredients.” Translation: These products contain a 70/30 split of organic ingredients and other nonorganic products that have been approved by the USDA.

Conclusion: The good stuff, plus a little extra.


“Natural” or “all-natural.” Translation: These labels can mean many things. In the case of meat, they mean that the manufacturer claims to have used no artificial flavors, colors, preservatives or synthetics. When it comes to nonmeat products, the label is largely meaningless because there is no accepted definition of “all-natural.”

Conclusion: Don’t confuse all-natural with organic.

“Free-range” or “free-roaming.” Translation: For many of us, these words evoke images of chickens free to roam the broad expanses at will. Don’t be fooled. This label (stamped on everything from eggs to chicken and meat) does not necessarily mean that animals have spent most of their lives outdoors. To label a product “free-range” or “free-roaming,” producers have only to offer the animals outdoor access every day for an “undetermined period”— which can mean as little as five minutes.

Conclusion: Use with caution.

Organic labels on seafood. Translation: This label can be applied at will, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture has set no standards for organic seafood.

Conclusion: Don’t believe the hype.



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