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Borrowed from Organic.org. This is one way to make sure your groceries are what they are supposed to be.

Borrowed from Organic.org. This is one way to make sure your groceries are what they are supposed to be.

This morning I came across a smart, eye-opening story posted on ecosalon. I immediately tweeted it — it was that important.

The story’s gist: Some of the very brands I know, love and shop for are owned by giant conglomerates that could care less about the environment or the people who buy their products. The biggest shocker: Horizon is owned by Dean Foods, which dominates in about 90 percent of U.S. milk markets. According to ecosalon: “The company is currently being sued by farmers and also being investigated by the Justice Department for monopolistic practices. In other news, Horizon has long been accused of selling “fake organic” milk by the Cornucopia Institute.” Definitely not a company I would willingly patronize, and yet I have Horizon organic yogurt, milk, and cream cheese sitting in my fridge. (It’s one of the more inexpensive brands you can find at Whole Foods.) My first thought when I read the story: Buh-bye, Horizon products.

I’ve never doubted my choice to buy organic, or to forgo a specific type of food if I couldn’t find the organic option. The benefits of organic are widely publicized. Pesticides cause numerous illnesses. Kids and pregnant women, especially, are at greater risk from the residue left on non-organic veggies. But I have caught myself wondering how “organic” the organic products I buy actually are. It’s not enough to hope that companies like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, both of which sell private label organics, will do the checking for me. I realized a while ago I need to be proactive. Here are some quick tips to help you find the best organic options out there.

  • Go Local. I really trust Trader Joe’s, for example, because it discontinued its organic broccoli for about six months or so because it was being sourced in China. Today, the Trader Joe’s organic broccoli is sourced in the U.S. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing about the packages of organic broccoli found in Whole Foods. I like that TJ’s wanted to give its customers the best option — something grown in our country that can be monitored better. (Certainly better than farms located across the globe.)
  • Know Your Certifications. Just because something is marked organic doesn’t mean it’s all organic. Or even that it’s been certified the right way. If your product says “organic” that means it only has to be 95 percent organic. And, it’s been said many times before, just because something says it’s natural or hormone-free or sustainably harvested doesn’t mean it’s good for your body. Your best bet is to look for one of the organic certification labels. You can see a list of organic certifying bodies here.
  • Read the Label. If you look at the Earth’s Best label, it very clearly states that the brand’s parent company is The Hain Celestial Group, Inc. It’s a company that owns many, many organic labels. I didn’t love it because, until a few years ago, it was also the same company that was owned — at least partially — by H. J. Heinz. Yes, the ketchup company. I was afraid that Heinz would influence manufacturing processes. Now, the largest owners of company stock are either company directors or fund investors. The lesson: If the company is public, you can see who the top shareholders are and if you agree with their ideals and directions. Private companies are a little trickier, but there’s plenty of information out there, especially if they have publicly-owned investors.
  • Check for violations. There are a number of watchdog organizations out there that watch for things like unsustainable, anti-competitive, or fraudulent activities. The Government Accountability Project (GAP) is one such site. There are also sites out there that keep track of the latest organic food news such as the Organic Consumers Association, Food Navigator, The Cornucopia Institute, and The Organic Trade Association (aka the O’Mamma Report). You can search for your favorite brand, or simply keep track of what’s going on in the industry.
  • Consider the venue. A lot of people aren’t going to agree with me, but Wal-Mart getting into organics is NOT a good thing. In my opinion, it’s going to lead to plenty of problems in the organic industry. Media reports have long bemoaned the company’s hold over pricing; Wal-Mart has settled in the past over predatory pricing charges. Organic growers are already stretched to the limit, trying to bring good food in at a good price. However, if Wal-Mart starts pressing suppliers for cheaper prices — which happens, according to one Wal-Mart watcher, quite often — something’s got to give. Just look at what happened to Rubbermaid. I’m hoping I’m wrong, but I doubt it. Help U.S. organic growers by buying your organic items anywhere but Wal-Mart.

Do you already buy organic? Have you ever worried about how good the products you’re buying are? I’d love to hear about it.

2 Responses to “Supermarket Confusion: Or Why Wal-Mart is Bad for the Organic Movement”

  1. Sharon Waldrop says:

    Yikes! I buy Horizon Organics products. Well, I used to anyway. That will never happen again!

  2. Shari G says:

    Target started carrying Archer Farms organics. The prices are reasonable too. I just stocked up on 4 cartons of milk there. Hopefully they are ok. Thanks for the information.

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