What you need to know when shopping organic
Shopping organic is a constant debate. Prices are often higher and food doesn’t last as long, but there’s of course incentive to buying more natural foods. The issue lately is that we’re seeing organic food labels on just about everything, and it’s clear companies are taking advantage of this organic food trend.
This has led to 59 percent of millennials becoming skeptical of these food claims that are often associated with organic foods, according to Mintel research. This research peaks into how millennials grocery shop, and it indicates that almost half of millennial grocery shoppers are confused by the amount of claims that are made on food products.
This influx of labels like GMO-Free, Free Range, and even USDA Certified Organic are being overused, and we need to break them down to see when they’re truly applicable. As a generation that cares a lot about the food they put in their body, there are some important claims to be aware of when grocery shopping. Here are three organic related food claims to keep in mind.
The GMO takeover of America
Claims like GMO Free are becoming increasingly common on grocery store shelves. Over the course of 2014, GMO Free product launches expanded 145 percent over the previous year according to organic foods retailer Whole Foods.
At this point most shoppers at least know that GMO’s are Genetically Modified Organisms, which means that the crop is altered at a genetic level. For many, it can scare them away.
“I make an effort to buy non-GMO food when I’m grocery shopping. I think that there are a lot of benefits to eating natural when possible and staying away from food that’s genetically modified and processed,” said Elaine Cotter, a fine arts student in Bloomington, Indiana.
Cotter points out a common perception when it comes to GMOs. Many are aware of the potential health risk associated with GMO products. Scientists continue to debate whether this focus on GMO Free has any foundation or not, but in the meantime food companies are taking advantage of consumer’s weariness with GMOs.
The most widely produced crop in the U.S. continues to be corn, 89 percent of which is now grown genetically modified, according to the USDA. 20 years ago in 1996, that number was astronomically lower at 3 percent.
The Institute for Responsible Technology points out that while the high majority of corn is genetically modified; the type of seed that produces popcorn is not. That means that there is no such thing as GMO popcorn. Popcorn producers like Orville Redenbacher took advantage of this fact and consumers obsession with non-GMO products, and labeled some of their products as non-GMO and natural. This is of course true, but clearly a marketing ploy. When shopping organic, it’s important to check claims like non-GMO online (the USDA’s website is a great resource), because in reality it might not be relevant to the food to begin with.
Home on the range
Free range is thrown around constantly when it comes to eggs and poultry.
“When I see free range labels on eggs I usually associate that with how the chickens are treated on farms. I’m assuming they get to roam around outside,” said David Schneider, a medical student in Minnesota.
The USDA classifies Free Range as “poultry that has been allowed access to the outside”.
That classification is rather loose, and organizations like PETA have fired back. They issued a statement criticizing the USDA’s vague definition and alerting consumers that it in no way guarantees animals are treated humanely. “Free-range labels don’t guarantee that animals are treated humanely any more than KFC’s flowery assurances about its animal welfare practices guarantees that animals raised for its restaurants don’t suffer.”
Looking at chicken farming as a whole, only 1 percent of chickens are truly classified as Free Range according to the National Chicken Council. The lack of regulation with Free Range chickens by the USDA makes the label a little too ambiguous.
Shopping organic is about nature
While chicken and eggs labeled Free Range have little meaning behind it, there are many in depth regulations when it comes to labeling products organic. The USDA ensures that certified organic foods are free of genetic modification, pesticides, and other artificial substances.
Rummaging through the fruit section, Vince Lombardo’s eyes widen at the price of the watermelon. “Five more bucks for an organic watermelon without pesticides? Looks like pesticides it is, then,” the Madison, Wisconsin resident said.
For those that care about buying products without those potentially harmful additives, buying organic products is worth the price hike. There are many foods however that are already grown without any of those modifications and can be bought without the organic label for a much cheaper price.
Most would assume produce is the most important type of food to buy organic, but the opposite is in fact true.
“I always thought produce was the most important type of food to buy organic” said Matt Saunders, another Wisconsin grocery shopper confused by the organic label.
According to the Livestrong foundation however, avocados, onions, and even produce like watermelon is grown in a safe way and doesn’t need to be bought organic. The list excludes common fruits like apples, berries and most citrus, but it’s still smart to keep in mind when grocery shopping and can save you a significant amount of money over time.
When Vince Lombardo complained about the pesticides in his non organic watermelon, he was actually making a smart decision. There are many misconceptions when it comes to food labels and buying organic related food. It’s important to research the food you’re buying to see if the claims made on the packaging are relevant to the product, or if it’s simply marketing.
Evan Hurrell is a graduating senior at Indiana University, majoring in Journalism. Evan hopes to pursue a career in advertising after graduation in May. Originally based in Minneapolis, he’s had experience interning at an ad agency back in the Twin Cities. Evan worked on the Subaru account with media partners like National Geographic, Comedy Central, and IFC. Outside of advertising and working with brands, he loves to get outside and explore. His favorite outdoor activities are skiing, hiking, camping and boating.