5 Foods That Are Only Labeled Organic — But Really Aren't

By Brittany Lyte on 6 April 2015 0 comments

There's a peculiar practice that breeds corruption in the American food labeling industry: The companies that certify foods as organic are paid by the very farms they certify. And since the certifiers are in competition with one another, the conditions are ripe for what's known as organic fraud. As Peter Laufer, author of "Organic: A Journalist's Quest to Discover the Truth Behind Food Labeling," explains, "If the inspection is a little harsh, the company or the farm could say, 'Hey, there are other places I can do business with that wouldn't put me through this kind of rigor.'"

We've all got to eat. But if it's organic eats that you're looking for, you should know that a certified organic label doesn't necessarily mean the food you're getting is organic. And the type of fraud discussed by Laufer isn't the only culprit. Read on for our roundup of the most common foods that are only labeled organic — but really aren't. (See also: 11 Health Foods Not Worth the Money)

1. Bananas

Bananas that are certified organic and grown in tropical countries like Ecuador may have been sprayed with rotenone, a toxic pesticide derived from the roots of several tropical and subtropical plants. Classified as "mildly hazardous" by the World Health Organization, rotenone has been linked to Parkinson's disease in farm workers. The pesticide was outlawed for use on crops in the U.S. in 2007, but it is still permitted for use on organic produce abroad, and is perhaps most commonly used on bananas.

2. Milk

Organic milk certifiers are not required to test for genetically modified organisms, according to a federal audit that questions whether milk marketed as organic is indeed truly organic. Without testing, the report concludes that "...There cannot be reasonable assurance that certifiers are identifying and ensuring that GM material is not contaminating organic feed and forage." This is not to say that all organic milk is contaminated, but the carton in your refrigerator very well may be.

3. Seafood

If you've ever seen a package of seafood labeled as organic in your local market — beware. Currently, there is no U.S. government-approved organic seafood. Organic labels sometimes appear on seafood based on criteria set by a private certification company or in accordance with standards set by foreign governments. But these alternative certification systems typically fall short of U.S. organic standards when it comes to other foods. So there's little reason to believe that seafood labeled as organic is up to par with would-be American organic seafood standards, if we had any.

4. Eggs

Hens must have access to the outdoors in order for their eggs to meet the USDA guidelines for organic egg production. But often they don't. In a recent example, one of Michigan's largest egg producers did not provide its birds with the freedom to roam outside, yet the farm's eggs still received the organic stamp of approval. "There are hundreds of certified organic egg producers that allow their animals to have access to the outdoors," says Mark Kastel, co-director of The Cornucopia Institute. "Sadly, the majority of eggs that are sold as organic are coming from facilities (that don't)."

5. Strawberries

When organic strawberries are first planted, their growth is aided by the use of fumigants, a type of pesticide that has been linked to cancer and developmental problems in the farmhands who plant them. Despite these horrific side effects, farmers rely on fumigants to ward off pests and diseases that might otherwise wipe out an entire crop. But so long as these fumigant-treated strawberry plants mature on an organic farm, they can still be certified as organic.

Do you buy any of these "organic" foods?

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