Posts Tagged ‘organic’
What to Look For
Choosing better chocolate means that you’re keeping harmful pesticides out of waterways and you’re showing support for farming methods that encourage biodiversity. You also allow farmers to get paid more equitably for their efforts, which in turn keeps child labor off chocolate plantations.
Certified Organic: Chocolate labeled USDA “Certified Organic” has been grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers on land that was free of such chemicals for at least three years prior to certification.
Fair Trade: The “Fair Trade Certified” label is a third-party certification administered in the U.S. by TransFair USA, which means that cacao beans were purchased directly from growers or their cooperatives for at least $0.10 more than the current market price, allowing farmers to invest in community developments such as education and healthcare. Currently, Fair Trade-certified farmers are paid at least $0.80 per pound, $0.89 if it’s certified organic. Certification also imposes some environmental-protection standards on growers, including a ban on the most hazardous pesticides and the use of integrated pest management techniques, such as growing cacao under shade canopies.
Rainforest Alliance: Combining aspects of the certifications above, the Rainforest Alliance (RA) focuses on how farms are managed rather than how beans are traded, and covers all aspects of production including environmental protection, worker rights and welfare and the interests of local communities. Certification requires that at least 40 percent of the cacao-growing plantation has to be covered in shade at all times in areas where the original natural vegetative cover is forest, which allows for wildlife preservation and a reduction of pesticides, but they do allow the use of some agrichemicals when pest-related damages would be greater than the farmer could cope with economically. RA-certified cacao farms must also pay workers, including minors, at least the local minimum wage, provide safe working conditions and implement measures to reduce minors’ participation in the harvest.
- Consider the source of your cocoa even when chocolate isn’t the main ingredient. Ben and Jerry’s now carries Fair Trade Certified chocolate and vanilla ice cream, and Green and Blacks offers a rich organic chocolate ice cream. For your next batch of cookies, try Sunspire’s organic and fair-trade chocolate baking chips ($4.39/9 oz.; www.worldpantry.com).
Eco-conscious shoppers who pay a premium for products that proclaim themselves organic or natural will be dismayed to learn that some of those products contain toxic byproducts. David Steinman, author of Safe Trip to Eden: Ten Steps to Save the Planet Earth from the Global Warming Meltdown, and the Organic Consumers Association recently released test results from over 100 body care and household cleaning products which showed that some of them contained 1,4 Dioxane, considered a probable human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency. The products included popular brands such as Method, Jason, Seventh Generation, and Whole Foods private label brand 365 Everyday Value.
Manufacturers don’t intentionally add 1,4 Dioxane to their products; it’s a byproduct formed when ethylene oxide, a petrochemical, is added to naturally derived foaming agents to render them less harsh. Steinman, who had previously done similar tests and found the chemical toxin in mainstream products, was searching for a safe bubble bath for his three young children. He found that many of the natural products contained trace amounts well below the standards set by the FDA for certain supplements and other product uses, which allows for concentrations of 10 parts per million (ppm). However, a few such as Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value Shower Gel and Method Naturally Derived Ultra Concentrate dish soap contained levels high enough to surpass the standard. Citrus Magic 100% Natural Dish Liquid contained 97.1 ppm—well above the standard.
Before you empty your cabinets, be aware that 1,4 Dioxane doesn’t accumulate in the body; it’s quickly metabolized and released in urine and the breath. “The level of contamination in most of these products is not alarming; however, the accumulated effect of using several products over a period of time is a valid concern,” says Stephen Ashkin, a well-regarded consultant to the green cleaning industry. Ashkin, who also consults with schools about greening their cleaning programs, urges people consider the potential length of exposure (for example, washing the dishes is a fairly brief exposure while putting on a skin cream could last for many hours), then consider their overall health to help assess their level of risk. “For example, children, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions are much more vulnerable than otherwise healthy adults, so more effort needs to be made to protect these more susceptible people.”
Federal regulations don’t require personal care or household cleaning products to disclose ingredients on their labels, so consumers have no way of knowing for certain what’s in them. Some manufacturers have been aware of the 1,4 Dioxane problem for some time, and have been working to minimize the levels of contamination using a process called vacuum stripping. The stripping is not a perfect process however, so while many manufacturers have been able to reduce levels to trace amounts, it doesn’t eliminate them entirely. After the results were made public, several of the companies pledged to investigate the problem further and actively seek out alternatives that won’t impact the performance of their products. The good news is that many of products tested were free of the compound including Aubrey Organics, Dr. Hauschka, TerrEssential and all of the products certified organic by the USDA or by BDIH, a German certifying organization. When purchasing certified organic products isn’t an option (there aren’t any organic dish soaps at this point), Steinman recommends that consumers seek out companies that are working toward eliminating petrochemicals entirely. Another way to avoid 1,4 Dioxane is to read labels, choosing products that do not contain PEG (polyethylene glycol) compounds and ingredients whose names end in “eth” (Sodium Laureth sulfate), Go to organicconsumers.org/bodycare for the full list of test results.
The response following my review of the “Earthlings” documentary has been so enlightening. There are so many passionate people on this little planet of ours, and also so many realists to play devil’s advocate. As long as there is suffering, there will be debate. But there will also be hope.
Thanks so much to those of you who have brought to light for me the questionable regulations behind organic farming. The Sunday after I watched Earthlings, I spent three hours between three grocery stores — Costco, Publix and Whole Foods — and found that the organic meat offerings were few and far between anyway. The butcher cases are full of antibiotic-free, vegetarian-fed meats, but none certified organic that I could see. None of the meats in the Greenwise section of Publix are actually organic, nor are they free of all chemicals. The words classifying these meats are a dance around reality. A warm blanket to help us feel better about what is still likely a poor choice.
What difference would the USDA organic certification make in any case? Doesn’t a free-range chicken still have its beak burnt off to prevent it from pecking its cellmates? How much “free range” do they get? Are the birds still starved to promote molting? And doesn’t a fat and happy organic cow still have to die at some point before it’s carved up and delivered to our plates? What does that process look like?
And then there is the food chain. The natural order of life. Animals eat animals. Man created tools to improve this process. Does that make man more or less violent than the mother lioness who takes down a gazelle with her teeth to feed her cubs? Or even the geckos who tongue-lashes the moths that buzz around our porch lights?
It is in our nature to hunt. To gather. To thrive. But it is also in our nature to know better.
For me, the jury is still out.