Cornucopia Institute pushes USDA to crack down on organic labeling confusion

Friday, February 18, 2011 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: organic labeling, Cornucopia, health news

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(NaturalNews) When Dean Foods, owner of the Silk soy milk brand, quietly changed its core product line from organic to conventional in 2009, it did so without also changing its UPC or product labeling, which confused customers and retailers, some for many months. This and several other cases of organic confusion have spurred the Cornucopia Institute (CI), a Wisconsin-based food and farm policy group, to petition the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to update its organic requirements in order to preserve the integrity of the organic name.

Readers may also be familiar with Peace Cereal, a granola and cereal brand that three years ago also quietly dropped its organic status. Just like Dean Foods, Peace did not notify its retailers or customers about the change, and kept the same UPCs for its products. So for months, and even years, some retailers continued to mistakenly label and sell the products as organic because they failed to observe the change as the products basically appeared the same.

Such confusion, if left unchecked, is likely to hurt the reputation of the entire organic industry as consumers may begin to question the legitimacy of organic labeling. So CI has filed a formal request asking the Secretary of Agriculture to require that both UPCs and product labeling be changed when a product is downgraded from organic to conventional, and also that formal notifications be sent to distributors, retailers, and customers to make them aware of the change.

"Any change in organic status requires new labels and packaging, since the USDA strictly regulates the use of the term 'organic' on food packages," stated Charlotte Vallaeys, a Farm and Food Policy Analyst with CI. "We believe that a change in the barcode is a simple step that every manufacturer should be obligated to take to ensure that all distributors and retailers are aware that the product has changed."
Customers are also urged to carefully inspect all products labeled organic on store shelves to ensure that they bear an official seal of organic certification on their packaging. Even if packaging looks the same or similar to what it was before, if it does not contain the official USDA organic seal, then it is no longer organic.

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