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Food Briefs

A Directory for Organic Products

July 21, 1988|DANIEL P. PUZO | Times Staff Writer

Public and media attention is focusing increasingly on organic foods in the aftermath of the recently publicized problems with pesticides.

In an effort to meet the heightened interest in these items--produced without chemicals, antibiotics and other additives--several consumer-advocacy groups have published a directory of suppliers.

The pamphlet, distributed by Americans for Safe Food, the Washington-based coalition, provides a listing of both mail-order sources and wholesalers that are currently distributing a wide variety of organics. Some items that can be obtained by mail include poultry, fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and beans.

Another important feature is the directory's disclosure of firms that are certified, by either a government agency or an independent group, as producing food "without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or growth stimulants (and) in an ecologically sound manner." The designation is meant to address, in part, the problems that the industry has had with fraudulent labeling and claims. Those firms not independently inspected are said to be "self-certified," according to the publication.

The listing is available free to the public and can be obtained by writing to Mail-Order Organic, 1501 Sixteenth St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036. A self-addressed, business-sized envelope with 50 cents return postage must accompany each request.

A Natural Comparison--Despite the attempts of Americans for Safe Food to publicize reputable suppliers of organic foods, the industry's credibility problem surfaced again recently in a study conducted by the Tufts University Diet and Nutrition Letter.

The report found some surprising similarities between conventionally manufactured products sold in supermarkets and those marketed as "all natural" in health-food stores.

Catsup was one of the products selected for comparison by the authors. They found that the so-called natural version was labeled as containing "no preservatives or MSG." However, a widely known commercial brand was also found to lack both preservatives and MSG, but no such mention was made on the bottle. As far as ingredients, the two products were identical, the newsletter reported, except for the fact that the national brand contained a sweetener. There was a wide disparity, though, in price. The ordinary commercial product retailed for 79 cents while the health-food-store version, of similar size, was $2.29.

Another product comparison was made with yogurt. A health-food-store brand claimed its manufacturer made an "effort to provide the most healthful . . . product" available. In fact, the "natural" yogurt contained more fat than the widely available supermarket brands studied.

The Tufts' report, rather than finding fault with manufacturers or retailers, urged consumers to read the fine print on product labels in order to make informed decisions on a processed food's healthfulness.

In another unrelated development, the California Certified Organic Farmers, a trade association, reported one of its own members to the state's Department of Health Services for selling nonorganically-grown carrots as organic.

The incident, which occurred last month, involved Pacific Organic Produce. The company, according to the New Farm magazine, was accused of "rebagging conventionally grown carrots and selling them . . . as organic."

The state ordered the company to discontinue use of the organic label until its claims could be substantiated.

Water's Potential--Concerns about tap water's safety will further accelerate bottled water sales in the coming decades, according to an industry trade publication.

"California consumers are changing the image of commercially sold water from a chic soft drink to a replacement for tap water. . . . Fear of (public water supplies) will create a booming market," reports California Beverage Hotline in a recent issue.

At present, this state leads the nation in sales of bottled water with 38% of the total, the newsletter found. And per capita consumption of bottled water in California is 15 gallons annually compared to only 6.1 gallons for the rest of the country.

This type of success is prompting the major beverage companies to consider introducing national brands of bottled water, but such a move would be a departure from the regional suppliers that dominate the market now.

At stake is $1.7 billion in annual sales, a figure that is expected to increase 10% to 15% a year into the next century, the report states.

However, the introduction of a national brand is expected to prove difficult. Anheuser-Busch attempted such a product and withdrew the item last year after difficulties with distribution, according to the report. Nevertheless, others are expected to follow because, as the newsletter predicts, water will become "one of the great consumer markets" of the coming years.

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