Labels and lawsuits – knowing what’s in your food

Good news: Lots of people are interested in helping us know which products and services are sustainably produced. They study supply chains, ingredients, and processes, and certify, or give a green label to, products that meet their standards.

Bad news: There are literally hundreds of such certifying organizations! This is actually good news, but the overflow of players makes it difficult to know which labels are the most meaningful, since there are phony or misleading labels. As I explained in The Green Foodprint, “greenwashing” is the practice of pretending to be greener than you are. For instance, “free range” supposedly means that the cow or chicken is able to go outdoors. “Outdoors” might be a concrete feedlot or a small space accessible to only a few of the thousands of birds confined inside a gigantic warehouse.

Good news: The US has a single nationwide label for organic food – USDA Organic. Bad news: USDA is corrupted by politics, and the USDA organic label is constantly facing threats to its integrity from agribusiness megacorporations.

Good news: Destructive corporations recognize that PEOPLE WANT SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS – but the corporations then cheat and cut corners to fool us into buying products that are not really sustainable. There are lots of ways they do this – bribing and threatening politicians and regulators, setting up phony consumer groups that parrot their spin, and inventing phony certifiers. Your solution: has a wonderful web page that evaluates some of the labels you’re most likely to see.

Briefly, the ones Earthwatch praises include USDA organic (despite its flaws), Country of Origin Labeling, Dolphin-Safe, Fair Trade Certified, Food Alliance Certified, and Marine Stewardship Council.

Good news: Attorneys who won big cases against the tobacco industry are now tackling Big Food. See the New York Times article here. Let’s hope they help clean up our big-food industry. In the meantime, you can help by voting for California’s proposition 37 this November, which would require GMO (genetically modified organisms) to be labeled.


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