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Retail Giant Under Investigation Over Allegedly Deceiving Organic Claims…

It seems like lately everyone wants jump on the “organic” bandwagon but few actually have the right to claim the title.

An investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is moving forward with regard to suspicions that retail giant Wal-Mart has mislabeling certain products as “organic” and in turn misleading consumers.

“We are beginning an investigation that will look into signage and whether it can be considered misleading,” said Jim Rabbitt, director of the department’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

The primary focus of the investigation is to determine whether allegations put forth by the watchdog group The Cornucopia Institute including signs and banners that read “Wal-Mart Organics” being placed on or above shelves containing items that are not certified organic.

In March 2006, an announcement from Wal-Mart stated the selection of organic products in its stores would be doubled.  Following the announcement was an ad campaign in parenting and women’s magazines as well as on television. The company stated that one of it’s goals was to make organics more affordable to general consumers.

Typically in supermarkets, organic food costs 30 to 40 percent more in price than for food grown using chemicals and genetic engineering. The result has been a 15% annual growth in the organic industry over the last five years.

According to the Cornucopia Institute, they initially took notice to labeling problems at Wal-Mart’s prototype store in Plano, Texas. Further investigation revealed the same problems in at least four states including Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Cornucopia Institute filed complaints with both the state of Wisconsin as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA has not yet decided whether to investigate.

Joan Schaffer, spokesperson for the agency’s national organic program says “We’re seeking more information to determine what action should be taken.”

Randy Lee, chief financial officer of grocery co-op PCC Natural Markets, had this to say about the USDA’s lack of action regarding Wal-Mart’s practices and the USDA’s lack of action.

“A huge amount of work went into coming up with a standard of quality in the organic industry,” he said. “If these allegations are true, then it very easily erodes those standards and comes with a significant business impact on other retailers that have higher standards.”

“Where is the USDA in all this?” he asked.

Folks, I ask the same thing. It seems rather ironic that government agencies scrutinize every move that certain natural supplement manufacturers make, yet anytime Big Pharma or any powerful company deceives the public, they are nowhere to be found.

The decision of falsely labeling products “organic” in an effort to increase revenue that has become the “organic bandwagon” is pretty disturbing in my opinion.

Hopefully someday, the government will take more action on matters such as this and protect the “healthy” consumer’s interest.

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