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November 06, 2012
Organic? Hmmm ... Maybe Not.

While shopping at my neighbourhood Marketplace IGA store last week, I was attracted to a sign marked: "BC Organic Assorted Squash. Was priced at $2.99/lb. Now priced at $1.29/lb."

Which would have been a good deal, except that not one squash in the pile was organic. Nor was any of it grown in BC.

I knew this from the stickers on the vegetables which not only read "Product of USA", they also all displayed a 4-digit code beginning with the number '4' -- clearly indicating that they were raised in the conventional manner. In other words, NOT local and NOT organic. Had they been organic, the sticker would have shown a 5-digit number beginning with '9'. (See an explanation for USDA coding information here.)

Although he did not apologize for the error, when alerted to the situation, the Produce Manager did immediately remove the sign and called down to the shipping area to refill the produce box with the proper items.

Now, I do believe that this was just a stocking error, not any intentional move on IGA's part to mislead their customers. However, this is not the first time I've seen this happen at this particular outlet (last time it involved "organic" Washington potatoes). And I've also encountered the same slip-up at other mainstream grocery stores in downtown Vancouver. So it points out two issues:

1) That there needs to be better education for staff working within the supermarket store system. Although the manager understood the labeling, none of the cashiers working at the time had any idea what the coding on the stickers meant, and apparently neither had the stock clerks.

2) As the consumer, you need to be alert to the possibility of mislabeling, and when purchasing organic items should always check the stickers or packaging information yourself.

Kudos to the mainstream food markets that are making an effort to provide organic produce for their customers, but until they are more familiar with them, it's still a good idea to support the farmers at your community farmers market whenever you can. The farmers don't get confused about such things, and what's more, their products are almost always local.


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