Over the next couple of weeks, earthlings living in the northern hemisphere will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spot a green comet for the first time since the Ice Age. What makes the comet green? Who knows. Moving on to a topic that is a little more on brand – are organic foods actually organic, or is it all a lie? Let’s dive in.
‘Organic’ Should Mean Organic
As a Daily Tonic reader, chances are you already shop organic whenever possible. You are more than happy to pay a little extra for food grown using fewer chemicals, and you are not alone. Sales of organic foods in the U.S. have more than doubled in the past ten years.
The only problem is that you might not be getting what you think you’re paying for. Despite the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) having a strict definition of “certified organic,” there are still too many loopholes that allow sketchy products to make their way onto grocery store shelves with an ‘organic’ label attached.
In 2017, a series of stories in the Washington Post revealed that fraudulent “organic” foods were a widespread problem in the food industry. We actually covered that story in an early issue of the Daily Tonic over a year and a half ago. The report documented a shipment of 36 million pounds of ordinary soybeans that traveled from Ukraine to Turkey to California. The interesting thing about these soybeans was that they somehow transformed themselves from regular, pesticide-sprayed, non-organic soybeans into “certified organic” ones when they arrived on U.S. soil.
It was magic (or plain fraud) that boosted the value of the soybean import by approximately $4 million. And this was just one example documented in the Washington Post story. A handful of shipments involving millions of pounds of “organic” corn or soybeans were all presented as organic, despite evidence to the contrary.
However, just last week, the USDA announced new guidelines for products labeled “organic” to crack down on loopholes in the certification process. Some experts say the updates represent the single largest revision to the organic standards since they were published in 1990.
Alongside the updated guidelines, authorities are cracking down on individuals who have abused the “organic” label in the past. The Justice Department announced indictments of individuals alleged to have masterminded the multimillion-dollar scheme to expert nonorganic soybeans from Eastern Europe to be sold in the U.S. as certified organic. Two Minnesota farmers were also charged in connection with a plan to sell more than $46 million in chemically treated crops as organic between 2014 and 2021
Justice is being served, and the hope is that this renewed vigor behind catching and prosecuting rulebreakers will set an example and deter future fraud from happening in the first place.
The key takeaway? It is important to note that “organic” is not a synonym for “healthy.” Studies have shown that there is only a small increase in nutrients when choosing organic. Due to pesticide concerns, shopping organic can be a wise choice when shopping for certain fruits and vegetables. However, a “certified organic” label on highly processed, packaged foods doesn’t change the fact that they are highly processed, packaged foods. An organic Oreo is still an Oreo.
Let’s hope that the USDA can crack down on organic fraud, and, in the meantime, we would suggest prioritizing buying organic when shopping for the fruits and vegetables on this list – the EWG’s Dirty Dozen.