Various organic food markets’ natural guarantee in question as lawsuits arise

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Mariano's stands as one of the many organic food markets under scrutiny (Photo Courtesy: Rucha Patel).

Eric Wong, Features Editor

Over the past few months, some organic foods markets have come under scrutiny on whether their foods are truly natural or not. Supermarket giant Whole Foods has been the center of the criticism, with a lawsuit being filed against them late last year.

The suit, originally filed by Whole Foods customers Mary and Grace Garrison in Nov. 8, 2013, is still ongoing. The suit claims that several Whole Foods products contain sodium acid pyrophosphate, a substance used as a leavening agent in foods, despite claims that the products were “all-natural.” Originally filed in California, the case filed against the Austin, Texas based company was elevated to a national class by U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria on July 2nd, 2014, despite claims by Whole Foods that laws pertaining to the definition of “natural” differ from state to state.

Family and Consumer Science teacher Erin Fasse defines what organic foods and preservatives are.

“Organic means it is not treated by any kind of pesticides or hormones, whereas preservatives are chemicals that are added to a product to increase the shelf life, the appearance, the taste or texture,” Fasse said. “So when you buy organic strawberries for instance, all that means is that it hasn’t been treated with pesticides.”

Other organic foods markets have legal troubles of their own. Whole Foods competitor and Monrovia, California-based company Trader Joe’s faced a lawsuit filed by Tamar Davis Larsen and Aran Eisenstat on October 24th, 2011, with main citations being Trader Giotto’s 100% Natural Fat-Free Ricotta Cheese and Joe-Joe’s Chocolate Sandwich Creme Cookies both have non-organic substances in them like xanthan gum and SAPP. To avoid spending further revenue on the lawsuit, Trader Joe’s came to a $3.4 million agreement but asserts they have done nothing unlawful on their website.

The suits soon lead to the general public questioning the organic food market community’s ethics, and whether this could be considered false marketing. Demands for government regulations are also being voiced to prevent further instances and legal battles.

Fasse believes regulations should be in place in order to prevent a largely unaware populace from being mislead.

“If people have an education about what to look for when they are reading labels, then that is one thing,” Fasse said. “But the general American population is not educated, and when they see the word ‘natural’ on a product on a package of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and the FDA is not saying that they can’t do that, your average consumer is going to think, ‘Well, I’m just going to eat boxes of Mac and cheese all day and it’s like eating a bag of lettuce,’ and it’s not.”

Despite this, regulations will only be a nuisance to food producers and marketers, according to Family and Consumer Science teacher Kathryn Johnson.

“I feel as though any type of regulation would be difficult and micro-managing,” Johnson said.  “It is incumbent on the producers to accurately label what is in their product and it is the responsibility of the consumer to have the knowledge base to read and understand the labels.”

The negative attention is also reinforcement to shop at conventional supermarkets for those who cannot afford the organic produce. In a study conducted by ABC news, organic foods on average costs 40-50% more than non-organic produce. In addition, numerous samples of foods were found to have traces of pesticides in them, with 54.50% of grape fruits being contaminated.

Sophomore Cody Koepke refrains from shopping organic due to the high costs.

“I do not shop organic because it seems to be more expensive than regular brands, and I feel like it is not worth paying extra for a little healthier food,” Koepke said. “I would shop organic, but I still think the cost is way too expensive.”

To junior Liyu Liu however, the health benefits of eating organic can benefit American health as a whole.

“In my opinion, I think that we can eat organic to combat obesity and help the nation prevent diseases,” Lu said. “The price is definitely high, but there is a reason it is so high, and it is because the food is much healthier.”