USDA Will Enforce–But Consumers are the Frontline Investigators
Many consumers who choose organic food for home cooked meals want the same benefits of organic certification when they eat out. Unfortunately, many are being misled or defrauded.
Restaurants recognize that local and organic foods are no longer narrow niche markets and that promoting organic food can bring in a wider customer base, but the rules and regulations surrounding how restaurants can market their organic offerings are sparse. The federal organic regulations for retail operations generally consider restaurants exempt from organic certification.
However, it is still illegal to co-mingle or misrepresent the organic status of anything sold in a grocery store or as an ingredient used in food preparation at restaurants. The term “local,” although abused, is not a regulated term.
“A problem arises when a restaurant uses the term ‘organic’ in their name, signage, or marketing materials,” said Marie Burcham, a policy analyst and attorney for The Cornucopia Institute. “It can and often does make consumers think the majority of what they are eating is certified organic.”
Gil Rosenberg experienced this confusion when he started eating at Bareburger, a New York City restaurant chain. Bareburger displayed that it sold organic food front and center, advertising “organic grass-fed burgers” and burgers “made with our custom proprietary organic blend,” along with other marketing on awnings, windows, and menus that flaunted the term “organic.” A burger at Bareburger will cost around $15–not cheap by American standards.
“People want organic food and they are willing to pay for it,” continued Burcham, “But what if they are not getting what is advertised? That’s misrepresentation.”
Rosenberg commented that he had been eating at various Bareburger franchise locations for nearly five years before discovering their misrepresentations. “When I would go [to Bareburger], I was told that the burgers, fries, and onion rings were ‘organic,’” stated Rosenberg. “They had the word ‘organic’ inside the restaurants, on the walls, burger clam shell boxes, takeout bags, menus, servers’ t-shirts, ketchup packs, and attached to their logo and awnings. Now it is clear to me that their marketing was designed to convince the public that all their food is certified organic, when only a small percentage of their menu is.” Read Full Article »