Organic Confusion: Americans Are Skeptical of Organic Labels

Americans are increasingly concerned about the environment, but skeptical of organic labeling, and not necessarily willing to spend more. A March 2013 Harris poll of 2,276 adults found that 38% of those polled confirmed they were concerned about the environment, but more than half (59%) believed that organic labeling was simply a means for companies to charge more for food and products.

USDA Organic Label“While Americans are showing more concern for the environment, they aren’t necessarily willing to pay more to do anything about it,” said Mike de Vere, president of the Harris Poll. “While Americans feel better about the economy, many are wary of the ‘greenwashing’ concept that gives companies a chance to cash in on consumers who want to help the planet but are confused by all the eco-friendly jargon.”

As more Americans look for healthier, environmentally friendly goods, and the organic marketplace has grown to $25 billion per year, companies have slapped terms like “all natural,” “eco,” and “green” on labels for everything from baby lotions to potato chips, without any accountability to health or environmental standards. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic label means farmers and businesses have adhered to standards that regulate the use of pesticides, harmful chemicals and genetically modified ingredients. But other green claims on labels have left consumers confused and wary of being tricked into spending more.

Major retailer Whole Foods bears some of the responsibility, notes an article by the Organic Consumers Association. They write: “Whole Foods’ business model: selling overpriced conventional foods as ‘natural,’ with organics in a subordinate role, is a recipe for maximizing profits rather than maximizing the growth of organic food and farming.”

The Harris poll found that more than half of Americans (55%) believe organic foods are healthier—but there is still a lot of confusion about the validity of organic labeling in the face of so much greenwashing.