USDA perpetuates legalized labeling scheme

Sarah Hyacinthe/ Contributing Writers

The parallels between nutrition and fashion are similar. Nutrition is a lot like fashion in the sense that it trends over time. The current trend is organic food, based on the thought that chemical free foods do not have adverse side effects on the individual’s health.

With such promise in tow, the public gravitates towards farmer’s markets, natural food aisles, and natural food stores. However, questions have come around to what “organic” really means and allowing the consumer to know what is actually in the food they think they are buying.

According to the USDA, an organic food product is grown and processed based on federal guidelines addressing the quality of the soil, animal raising practices, pests, weeds and additives. Upon conformity, farmers may use the USDA certified organic foods label to indicate the process and quality of their food.

Failure to follow guidelines results in financial penalties or revocation of the organic certificate. To the innocent bystander that sounds reassuring. However, we will discuss why the revocation is too good to be true.

According to Toomey Erin of the “Drake Journal of Agriculture Law,” in order to comply with the federal requirements, farmers and handlers must only use substances on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. This should be rather reassuring, if it weren’t for the fact that as of 2014, there are over 250 non-organic substances on the list which is a drastic surge from the 77 non-organic substances found in 2002.

During the upgrading process of the list, the “sunset review,” companies petition the National Organic Standards Board Reviews to keep an allowed substance on the list; some claim the rise in non-organic substances on the list is a reflection of federal standards being influenced by representatives of the agribusiness sector.

The Organic Food Production Act is tasked with regulating the labels of products presented to consumers. Basically an item that says 100% Organic must be made with and only contain organic ingredients. Yet, a product can say organic but have 95% organically produced ingredients and processed products label organic can have around 70% organic ingredients and conform to regulations, thus explaining the confusion amongst consumers.

In addition, who can even verify the content of these products? No law exists and no plant is in place to test every item before it goes to market.

With an endless list of carve-outs, exceptions and inclusions in organic production regulations, it is difficult for the USDA to implement uniform labeling policies for organic products and production processes. This becomes the conundrum every health conscious individual faces when trying to contrivance their personal regiment.

With a largely ineffective regulatory regime in place, these mislabeled products flood the market and misguide consumers during their purchasing choices. Those who believe they are purchasing high quality foods are really just spending money on questionably better products.

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