Food Labels That Deserve Your Dollars

Mon Mar 17, 2008 7:09pm EDT

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"Cage-Free" Eggs? "Dolphin Safe" Tuna?

ShopSmart's Exclusive Guide to Deciphering Food Labeling and Avoiding Rip-Offs

YONKERS, N.Y., March 17 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- It's getting so easy to buy
what seems to be better-for-you-and-the-planet versions of your favorite
products with organic versions food such as Oreos, Ragu pasta and Kraft
Macaroni & Cheese now available. According to a report featured in the
April/May 2008 issue of ShopSmart, from the publisher of Consumer Reports,
foods certified "organic" are often worth the extra money, but watch out for
other labels that can fake you out, since many appear on products without
government regulation or verification from independent agencies.

"Labels can make a product sound healthful or planet-friendly, even when it is
not, tricking you into wasting money," said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief,
ShopSmart. "Before you splurge on a product based on a label, check out our
guide to which labels you can trust and which don't deserve your dollars."

ShopSmart's feature also includes advice on how to tell what's truly
cruelty-free, when it pays to shop at the farmers market, and lists some of
the top humane restaurant and supermarket chains. 

What's Worth It and What's Not?

Meat, poultry, eggs and dairy. Labels including "USDA Organic/Organic," "Not
Treated with rBGH," "No Hormones Administered or Added" and "Certified Humane"
are the real deal. Products labeled "No Antibiotics Used or
Administered/Raised without Antibiotics," "No Hormones Administered" and
"Grass-Fed" might also be worth it, although there are loopholes that may make
them less meaningful. Buyer beware as "Free Range," "Free Roaming,"
"Cage-Free" and "Natural" have such loose requirements that animals could
still have been mistreated.

Coffee and chocolate. Coffee and chocolate marked "USDA Organic/Organic,"
"Fair Trade Certified," "Rainforest Alliance Certified" and "Bird Friendly"
are worth the extra cost. A label that might not be worth it is "Shade-Grown"
as this label is not associated with a certifying organization.

Seafood. The USDA has not yet developed organic certification standards for
seafood, so it never pays to buy organic.  Fish could be labeled organic
despite the presence of contaminants such as mercury and PCBs. "Dolphin Safe"
and "Marine Stewardship Council" labels also lack sufficient regulation, yet
"Farm-Raised" and "Wild-Caught" are government regulated and might be worth
it, depending on the type of fish you are buying. For example, opt for
wild-caught salmon but farm-raised tilapia. 

Fruits, vegetables, beverages, pasta, oils and packaged foods. "USDA
Organic/Organic" is the way to go for produce, but on packaged foods you'll
see different organic labels: "100% Organic," "Organic" (95% of ingredients
are organic) and "Made with Organic Ingredients" (70% of ingredients are
organic). The label "Biodynamic" is stricter and worth the extra dollars, but
is also tougher to find.

How To Save On Organics

Get more for your money at the grocery store with these seven tips from the
experts at ShopSmart.

1. Prioritize purchases. If you have to pick and choose, go for organic
produce, baby food, meat, poultry, eggs and dairy. The conventional versions
of these tend to be more contaminated with pesticides and potential toxins.

2. Search the Web for coupons. Many major organic brands, including Stonyfield
Farm, Annie's Homegrown, Organic Valley, Earthbound Farm and Heath Valley,
offer coupons at their Web sites.

3. Shop at discount stores and comparison shop for specific items. Large
discount chains like Sam's Club, Costco, Wal-Mart and Target now carry
organics and claim that their prices are lower than those of most other
retailers. But be sure to check prices on frequently purchased items at
different stores to see which retailer sells them for the lowest price.

4. Look for store-brand organics and bulk packaging. Examples include Whole
Foods Market's 365 Organic Everyday Value, Safeway's O Organics, Stop &
Shop's/Giant's Nature's Promise, Kroger's Private Selection Organic, Trader
Joe's and others that often cost less than national brand names.

5. Buy from bulk bins. You can now find organic rice, flour, beans, granola,
nuts, pasta and peanut butter for less in bulk bins at many grocery stores.

6. Join a food co-op. They are independent grocery stores that usually offer
local and organic foods. Some have a membership fee and may require members to
volunteer at the co-op for a few hours each moth. Members get a discount when
they shop. To find a local co-op, go to http://www.coopdirectory.org or
http://www.localharvest.org/food-coops.

7. Buy lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in season. That's when prices are
lowest. To see what produce is in season near you, click on your state at
http://www.sustainabletable.org/shop/eatseasonal. If possible, freeze or
preserve produce for later. You may be able to get a discount from local
farmers by buying membership in a community-supported agriculture program and
sharing it with friends.

About ShopSmart magazine: 

Launched in Fall 2006 by Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports,
ShopSmart draws upon Consumer Reports' celebrated tradition of accepting no
advertisements and providing unbiased product reviews. The magazine features
product reviews, shopping tips on how to get the most out of products and
"best of the best" lists. ShopSmart is ideal for busy shoppers who place a
premium on time. ShopSmart has a newsstand price of $4.99 and over a half a
million copies of each issue are available nationwide at major retailers
including Barnes & Noble, Target, Wal-Mart, Borders, Kroger, Safeway and
Publix.

SOURCE  Consumer Reports

Rachel Levy Konik, +1-212-255-8455 x 235, RachelK@rosengrouppr.com, for
Consumer Reports; or Lauren Hackett of Consumer Reports, +1-914-378-2561,
LHackett@consumer.org
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