Dr. Joseph Mercola Examines Organic Labeling

Tomiko Peirano

Tomiko Peirano › Tomiko has amassed decades of experience in the food industry, from her family's restaurant in Oregon's ...


When The NYTimes reported on the growing problem of Big Organic, many of us were surprised to discover how diluted the white and green USDA Organic label had become. We thought we had been doing our necessary food homework, diligently reading the ingredients panel or noting the word “organic” on the label. If the item passed our inspection, it was probably good to go on the table.

However, it seems the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has sadly let the term “organic” become co-opted in support of heavy-hitting Big Ag’s needs and wishes, allowing for looser and looser standards.

In a recent article for Honey Colony, Dr. Joseph Mercola took a closer look at the issue and the extent to which these allowances go.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is charged with enforcing the laws regulating organic foods, so how are improprieties occurring? According to [Mark] Kastel, what we have here is nothing short of an Organic Watergate. He explains:

“An incident last fall caused Cornucopia staff to do a cursory review of many non-organic and synthetic ingredients that have been approved for use in organics since the USDA took over regulation in 2002. And what do we find? A corporate and governmental conspiracy to allow almost any chemical petitioned by agribusinesses in organic food, regardless of the fact that Congress mandated review of all such substitutes to make sure that they will not damage the environment or human health.”

In November 2011, the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board held a meeting in Savannah, Georgia. During that meeting, two $12 billion corporations – Martek Biosciences (a division of the Dutch biotechnology giant DSM) and WhiteWave (a division of the dairy behemoth Dean Foods) — received approval for synthetic, genetically mutated DHA and ARA oils derived from algae and soil fungus, which are then grown in a medium of genetically engineered corn products and organics.

You would hope rounds of testing and research would stop some of these high-risk ingredients from being approved for use in food products, but even that aspect of the review process has been weakened by competing (or, in this case, parallel) interests:

Talk about proverbial foxes guarding the organic chicken coop… Kastel points out that some of the board members of The Organic Center are even from the same companies petitioning for, and/or supporting the use of synthetics in organics! So how can employees of The Organic Center be expected to actually provide wholly independent technical reviews and solid scientific advice to the NOSB, when their bosses are neck-deep in corporate interests?

The most egregious example of this collusion is the use of carrageenan, a common additive in reduced-fat yogurts, in organic foods:

According to Kastel:

“When carrageenan was first reviewed in 1995, the NOSB, as required by law, looked at the potential environmental and health impacts after examining a technical review produced by three experts with corporate agribusiness ties: Dr. Steve Harper, director of R&D at Small Planet Foods (now owned by General Mills), Dr. Richard Theuer, a vice-president of R&D at Beech Nut, and Dr. Stephen Taylor, professor of food science at the University of Nebraska and defender of genetic engineering. Dr. Taylor has published studies on genetically engineered organisms (GMO) and allergy risks, co-authored by agribusiness scientists at DuPont and Pioneer Hi-Bred (manufacturers of chemicals and organic seed).

“This technical review hardly mentions some potential serious health impacts from degraded carrageenan, failing to cite any of the research to inform the board that historically, as much as 25 percent of carrageenan on the market was categorized as degraded. Current research shows all types of carrageenan can degrade in the body and can create serious known health impacts.

Pretty appetizing information.

So, what can we can do about it? Dr. Mercola suggests downloading and signing the proxy letter created by the Cornucopia Institute, available on their website. We should also continue to consume less and less packaged foods, no matter the promises made on the label

There is an incredible amount of useful information in Dr. Mercola’s article, which I’ve only briefly touched on here. I highly recommend you take the time to read the entire piece.

Click here to read the article in full.

Do you still trust the USDA Organic label, or do you need an even deeper background check on packaged foods?

Photo Credit: Tomiko Peirano