Restaurants looking to capitalize on growing demand for organic food are abusing organic labeling, a briefing in the New York Times.
Companies like the famous fast-food chain Bareburger display the word “organic” on packaging and marketing materials, but not all products served by the chain meet USDA’s certified organic criteria. In some cases, the items do not contain any organic ingredients.
Food and beauty products sold in supermarkets that carry the organic seal must meet certain criteria that verify the use of organic processes, namely a lack of pesticides and herbicides on the crops, the absence of genetic modification and , in animal products, no antibiotics. and compliance with strict animal welfare standards.
But for restaurants, this is not the case. “Bareburger doesn’t necessarily break the rules,” notes the Times. “While farms and other businesses that wish to advertise their products as organic must meet certification bodies that conduct annual inspections for the Department of Agriculture, restaurants do not. A restaurant can apply for organic certification s ‘he wants to, but doesn’t have to.’
Under National Organic Program rules, restaurants need only make a “reasonable” effort to source organic materials in order to use the label.
“There is no precise definition, however, of what constitutes a reasonable effort, and no oversight body for enforcement,” the Times explains. The USDA can investigate complaints of false use of organic claims, but these are low priority requests on an already overtaxed agency.
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From organic authority files
More recently, Bareburger began heavily promoting two vegan menu options: the popular Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger dominate its Instagram feed. The plant-based burgers appeal to vegans and vegetarians, but they’re also a hit with the chain’s omnivorous clientele. Beyond Meat claims to have sold more than 11 million of its burgers nationwide since its launch in 2016, and chains like Bareburger have played a big role in that success. While the Beyond Burger was recently verified to be free of genetically modified ingredients by the Non-GMO Project, the key ingredient in the Impossible Burger, a product called “heme”, comes from the root of a plant of genetically modified soy. According to the USDA definition, organic products cannot contain GMO ingredients.
When the USDA created the National Organic Program in 2002, restaurants were exempt because the agency focused on farmers and handlers. But since the program began, interest in organic foods has skyrocketed; Millennials and Generation Z are looking for more organic food options than ever before. More than 80% of US households report buying organic food regularly. The organic food industry is valued at over $45 billion in annual revenue.
Chains like Bareburger seek to capitalize on customers disenchanted with big fast food restaurants and the $1 meal philosophy; but according to the Times, there may be no difference in the ingredients of these cheaper chains, just how they are marketed to consumers.
For customers, seeing “organic” on a menu is probably no different from seeing other buzzwords like “natural,” “local,” or “sustainable” — words the USDA and FDA don’t regulate. not but that food manufacturers use ad libitum in order to charge premiums for their products. And for now, the USDA says it has no immediate plans to change organic regulations for restaurants.
“We are moving towards the goal of a user-friendly, faster and even more transparent system,” the USDA told The Times. “Many factors affect the length of an investigation.”
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