The survey found that 71% of Americans are worried about pesticides in their food and almost three out of four respondents (74%) would like to eat food produced with fewer pesticides.
"We know the majority of toxic pesticides that people are exposed to come from their diet," said Dr. Alex Lu, Associate Professor of Environmental Exposure Biology at the Harvard School of Public Health. "Building awareness about how foods are produced and where pesticides can be found is an important first step in reducing our consumption of them."
With so many people expressing a desire to avoid these chemicals, the study found a good deal of confusion when it comes to food labels, the best way to know with certainty if pesticides are used in the production process. In particular, confusion arises when comparing the marketing buzz term "natural" to the USDA Certified Organic seal. In fact, more than half (56%) of respondents incorrectly identified organic attributes such as "made without the use of toxic persistent pesticides" and "made without the use of synthetic hormones" to products labeled natural.
Currently there are no standards for the term "natural" on food labels. Purchasing foods with the USDA Certified Organic seal is the only guarantee that the item was produced without the use of toxic persistent pesticides, synthetic hormones, antibiotics and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
This is true of all foods, even those that enjoy a healthy halo like traditional and Greek yogurt. "As a yogurt maker, of course I want more people to eat more yogurt," said Stonyfield Chairman and Co-Founder Gary Hirshberg. "But it's important to know not all yogurts are created equal. People are being misled by the healthy halo food products labeled natural enjoy. That's why all Stonyfield products are certified organic. Besides knowing your farmer, the certified organic seal is the only way to be absolutely certain things like toxic persistent pesticides aren't being used to make your food."
The survey results are also timely as October is dedicated to GMO awareness. "Despite promises that the use of GMOs would reduce our dependence on pesticides, the opposite is happening. In fact, overall, pesticide use has increased by 7% since GE crops were introduced and 42 million pounds of pesticides are used annually for producing the feed given to dairy cows that produce non-organic milk products. Unfortunately, nowadays even so called 'natural' yogurts may still be made with milk produced by cows fed GMO grains. Choosing organic foods is the only way anyone who wants to avoid these practices can do so," continued Mr. Hirshberg who is also co-chairman of Just Label It.
Stonyfield Fights Pesticides
Label confusion currently puts the responsibility in the hands of consumers to cut through the marketing clutter at their local supermarkets. Nearly half (48%) of respondents said they want to know more about how food is produced but don't know where to get the right information. A full 79% of people polled said that they think food companies should provide more information to consumers about the way their products are grown and manufactured. Among parents, that number was even greater (83%).
To meet this demand for clear information, Stonyfield—known for using its lids as “tiny billboards” for information its fans care about—is introducing updated packaging for its organic yogurt. Now, the cups themselves are designed to help consumers easily understand more about how their organic yogurt was produced.
Beginning in the fall of 2013, consumers will notice a new look on shelves as Stonyfield rolls out a complete makeover of its full product line. The new packaging features a larger, more prominent Stonyfield Organic logo and two new call outs to highlight how the yogurt is produced. On the front of the package, a call out states the yogurt was made without the use of toxic persistent pesticides. The back of the cup features a signed note by Mr. Hirshberg that reads, "It's a complex world. But this yogurt is simple. We make it without the use of toxic persistent pesticides, artificial hormones, antibiotics and GMOs."
More information and tips for avoiding pesticides can be found on the Stonyfield blog along with full results of this consumer survey.