The million-strong Organic Consumers Association, North America’s leading watchdog over organic and fair trade standards, announced today at the national Expo-West Natural Products convention, along with its allies in the organic and natural health community, a new nationwide campaign: Organic Retail and Consumer Alliance (ORCA). The new alliance will aggressively promote organic food and products, and expose and eliminate the rampant “natural” labeling and marketing fraud that has slowed the growth of America’s $30-billion dollar organic sector.
Routine mislabeling and marketing fraud has confused millions of U.S. consumers, and enabled the so-called “natural” foods and products sector to grow into a $60-billion- a-year powerhouse, garnering twice as many sales in 2012 as certified organic products.
Polls and surveys indicate that the majority of America’s health- and environmentally conscious consumers are confused about the qualitative difference between organic foods and items and so-called “natural” products. The majority of consumers believe, contrary to fact, that the cheaper foods, supplements, body care, clothing and other products bearing the “natural” label are “almost organic.” Many consumers actually believe that the “all natural” label means a product is better than organic. This is outrageous, given the fact that organic food and products, by law and by third-party certification, are produced without the use of synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers, animal drugs, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), irradiation, nanoparticles or sewage sludge. “Natural” products, on the other hand, are basically unregulated.
Walk down the aisles of any Trader Joe's, Whole Foods Market, or upscale supermarket and look closely. What do you see? Row after row of attractively displayed, but mostly non-organic "natural" (i.e. conventional) foods and products. By marketing sleight of hand, these conventional foods, vitamins, private label items and personal care products become "natural" or "almost organic" - and overpriced - in the "natural" supermarket setting.
It's no wonder, and no accident, that consumers are confused. Companies and retailers selling these products are simply telling us what we want to hear, so they can charge a premium price.
But test these so-called "natural" products in a lab and what will you find? Pesticide residues, GMOs and a long list of problematic and/or carcinogenic synthetic chemicals and additives.
Trace these "natural" products back to the farm or factory and what will you find? Climate destabilizing chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and sewage sludge. Not to mention drugged, abused, and intensively confined farm animals, tended by exploited farm laborers, and slaughterhouse and food processing workers. Of course there are many products in Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and other natural food retailers that bear the label "USDA Organic." But the overwhelming majority – 60 percent or more - of their products do not.
Perhaps this wouldn't matter if we were living in normal times, with a relatively healthy population, environment and climate. Conventional products sold as "natural" or "nearly organic" would be just one more example of chicanery or consumer fraud.
But we are not living in normal times. Making the Great Transition, as soon as possible, to a relocalized, organic system of food and farming is absolutely essential if we are to reduce climate disrupting greenhouse gas pollution; sequester billions of tons of excess carbon in our farmlands, pastures, and rangeland; reduce pollution; conserve our water, soil fertility, and biodiversity; and restore public health.
Demanding that so-called “natural” producers and manufacturers stop their rampant labeling fraud and make the transition to organic is a matter of life or death. And standing in the way of making this Great Transition are not only Fortune 500 food and beverage corporations, Monsanto and corporate agribusiness, as we would expect, but also the wholesale and retail giants in the “natural” products sector.
Natural food retail giants like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, and wholesalers like United Natural Foods Incorporated (UNFI), are maximizing their profits by selling so-called “natural” products at premium organic prices. Organic consumers are increasingly left without certified organic choices while organic farmers continue to lose market share to "natural" imposters. It's no wonder that less than 1% of American farmland today is certified organic.
Organic food and products make up approximately 5 percent of all grocery store sales in 2013. So-called “natural” products make up 10 percent. The goal of OCA’s new Organic Retail and Consumer Alliance (ORCA) is to move aggressively to reverse this situation, to double organic sales from $30 billion to $60 billion a year as soon as possible, and to put an end to the rampant labeling fraud in the “natural” products sector through a combination of public education, marketplace pressure, boycotts, class action lawsuits and state legislation.
The Organic Consumers Association, through its new ORCA campaign, is calling on America’s food producers and retailers, including co-ops, natural food stores, farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) buying clubs and wholesalers, to “come clean” and adopt strict “truth in labeling.” ORCA members will:
• Promote organic foods and products, especially local and regionally produced organic, as well as products in transition to organic, rather than so-called "natural" products. (“Transition to organic” means a producer has signed a contract with an accredited organic certifier to begin making the transition to organic.)
• Promote truth-in-labeling by demanding signed, legally binding affidavits from “natural” product and ingredient suppliers stating whether or not their products contain genetically engineered ingredients. Voluntarily label or inform consumers about which “natural” or “conventional” brands or products contain GMOs.
• Educate customers and the public about the qualitative superiority of organic and truly natural products (i.e. 100% pastured and free-range meat and animal products), as opposed to bogus “natural” products, which in most cases are no different than “conventional” chemical-intensive, factory-farmed products.
Public interest organizations, producers and retailers wishing to join the Organic Retail and Consumer Alliance should contact the Organic Consumers Association by email: email@example.com or telephone: 218-226-4164.