Whether a food product contains genetically modified organisms, and whether the disclosure of that information should be mandatory on the label has dominated public discourse in recent years. But that focus may have obscured a more basic concern about whether that food contains residues of pesticides used in its production.
According to a survey released recently by Stonyfield Farms, a majority of Americans are concerned about pesticides in the food supply. The survey of 1,000 Americans conducted by Lindberg International on behalf of Stonyfield, the leader in the organic yogurt category, 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."
Non GMO doesn’t mean pesticide free
The Non GMO Project verified seal is the fastest growing certification in the marketplace, said Steve Hoffman, an industry consultant and principal of the marketing firm Compass Naturals. The confusion about which seal covers what has led some organic producers to display both organic and non GMO seals on their products, he said. The non GMO verification by itself does not speak to the pesticide question, Hoffman said.
“There still is a pesticide question there,” he said.
These concerns among consumers have not gone unnoticed on the part of industry. There is more demand from industry for better testing tools, something that spurred third party auditing and certification company SGS Global Services to launch a dedicated testing arm called SGS Global Testing Services which debuted to industry last week at the Produce Marketing Association’s annual convention in New Orleans. The new service will result in lower prices and faster turnaround times, the company said.
“Since we’ve launched SGS Global Testing Service we are really expanding around pesticide testing,” Brandon Nauman project manager with the food and agriculture division at SGS told FoodNavigator-USA.
“Longer term studies are coming to light that highlight the synergistic effects between pesticides over time,” he said. “We have noticed more consumer demand for pesticide-residue-free certified products. A lot of consumers are under the misconception that organic products are 100% free of pesticides and that is not entirely true.”
Survey: Consumers still confused about ‘natural’
Stonyfield’s survey revealed the ongoing confusion in the marketplace over what “natural” means. More than half (56%) of respondents incorrectly identified the attributes of certified organic products such as "made without the use of toxic persistent pesticides" and "made without the use of synthetic hormones" to products labeled natural.
Survey respondents evinced a certain amount of frustration with the current climate in which ‘natural’ has no regulatory definition and is seemingly being defined lawsuit by lawsuit. 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. 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 at 83%.