The Truth About Imported Organic Foods
by Heather Routhbauer Wanish
Many people today are trying to create healthier lifestyles by exercising and eating differently. For those who wish to eat healthier, organic foods are a popular choice. However, there is reason to believe that all organic foods are not created equally. And, more importantly, consumers need to realize that all imported organic foods may not necessarily be organic.
Consumers tend to purchase organic foods because they are grown and processed without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, added hormones, or genetically engineered ingredients. Organic foods have increased in popularity in the last two decades. According to a study conducted by Stanford scientists, and reported by Food Safety News, the market for organics in the United States was worth $3.7 billion in 1997. However, by 2010, that number had grown tremendously to $26.7 billion.
Part of the appeal for eating organic foods also has to do with trying to eat locally grown foods from farmers markets and other food cooperatives. However, in some climates, it is virtually impossible to eat locally grown foods during the winter months. At that point, consumers must decide if they are willing to purchase organic foods that have been imported into the country.
If consumers view imported organic foods from a sustainability perspective, then imported foods may not be the best option. For example, consider the air polluting fossil fuels used by the transportation methods to get the food to the United States. Next, organic foods that make a long journey to this country have also lost nutrition value along the way. And, according to Natural Life Magazine, some of the vitamins and antioxidants may break down when exposed to air and light.
According to the World’s Healthiest Foods (www.whfoods.org), all food imports or food ingredient imports into the United States must meet the national organics standards in order to be certified as organic in the United States. However, being certified as organic in the United States is not the same as being certified organic in other countries. Why does this matter to consumers? Because of the increasing popularity of organic foods, importing organic ingredients is more common. This allows the industry to keep up with the increasing demand from consumers.
The United States Department of Agriculture is the governing body that regulates which foods can be labeled as “organic.” And, according to the USDA, all organic products must obtain organic certification. To ease the process of certifying organic foods, the USDA National Organic Program, the federal regulatory body for U.S. organic products, has close to 100 accredited certifying agents in the U.S. and around the world.
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) provides recommendations on organic regulations; however, these do not become official policy until approved and adopted by the USDA. According to the USDA website, the NOSB is a Federal Advisory Committee comprised of the following members of the organic community: four farmers/growers, three environmentalists/resource conservationists, three consumer/public interest advocates, two handlers/processors, one retailer, one scientist, and one USDA accredited certifying agent. Once products are approved as organic, consumers must be educated on label distinctions.
Consumers should look for the USDA organic seal which guarantees the food is at least 95 percent organic. According to UW Health, products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients may state “made with organic ingredients” on the label, but cannot use the USDA seal. Consumers should be aware of these labeling differences to ensure they are purchasing and consuming the foods they assume they are eating.
If consumers really want to ensure that the foods they purchase are truly organic, buying locally from a farmer is the best option. Farmers markets or CSAs (community-supported agriculture arrangements) are excellent ways to verify the source of your food supply. Most importantly, being a conscious, investigative, and well-informed consumer will allow you to make the best and most healthy decisions for you and your family.