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06.02.10

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Phaedra

Organic by Any Other Name?

In which even the esteemed Newman's Own is found to largely be a faker

By Ari LeVaux


Some food companies have found a way to cast their processed foods as organic without going through the inconvenience of actually using certified organic ingredients in their products. By incorporating "organic" into their names, some companies have been able to display the magic word on the packaging of food products that are not in fact certified organic.

This deception has recently been called out by the Cornucopia Institute, an organic watchdog group, which has filed complaints with the National Organic Standards Board and Federal Trade Commission.

Newman's Own Inc., the parent company of Newman's Own Organics, which has been justifiably lauded for giving $285 million to charity since 1982, has an enigmatic slogan plastered at the top center of its web page. It reads: "Shameless exploitation in pursuit of the common good."

According to Cornucopia, Newman's Own Organics seems to be shamelessly exploiting the word "organic" to help sell products that are not, in fact, certified organic.

Cornucopia's issue with Newman's Own Organics boils down to the difference between two types of certifications, both of which are bestowed by USDA-accredited organic inspectors. The "Certified Organic" label means a processed food contains at least 95 percent certified organic ingredients, with the remaining percentage being unavailable in organic form. The "Made with Organic Ingredients" label means at least 70 percent of the ingredients are certified organic, with no stipulation that the nonorganic ingredients be unavailable in organic form.

While the difference between 70 percent and 95 percent isn't earth-shattering, it's significant that a cheaper nonorganic percentage can be presented, by semantic sleight of hand, as the real thing. "Made with Organic Ingredients" is a weak alternative that hangs on to the organic name like a parasite.

The Newman's Own Organics product line includes both "Certified Organic" products and those "Made with Organic Ingredients." Cornucopia believes the company should either switch to a 95 percent–plus certified organic product line or change its name.

"[The regulations] specify that 70 percent organic products cannot 'represent' themselves as organic. If Newman's Own Organics cannot legally use the term 'organic' or represent its 70 percent organic products as organic, we do not believe they should be able to use the 'Newman's Own Organics' company name on the front packaging," Charlotte Vallaeys, farm and policy analyst with Cornucopia, explained via email.

According to Vallaeys, USDA's National Organic Program is currently evaluating the use of "organic" in company names for "made with" products and will issue guidance in due course. And, she says, the NOP is also investigating some Newman's Own Organics advertising practices that appear to go beyond the shameless exploitation of a legal gray area.

That's one aspect of their business, at least, which is entirely uncharitable.


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