Walmart Caught Incorrectly Tagging Food As Organic

People in Wisconsin take their organic food seriously, Walmart. Don’t mess with Wisconsin. They wear cheese on their heads, for pete’s sake.

From CBS:

Wal-Mart stores said Tuesday it has given updated guidelines to its employees following a complaint filed with the state of Wisconsin that some foods were incorrectly labeled as organic.

The complaint was filed with the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection by the Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog group based in Cornucopia in far northern Wisconsin.

Wal-Mart said that green tags on their shelves, which identify food as organic, may have inadvertently or mistakenly been placed, or accidentally shifted in front of the wrong item.

“Our green organic signing is for additional consumer convenience to show that an organic alternative is available. It is not a label,” the company said in a statement. “The USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) certification label is featured on the packaging of the organic selections we offer and consumers should always rely on this USDA certification label for proper organic verification.”

Translated, that last part means: “This marketing will probably continue to be misleading, so we’re warning you about it.” Wisconsin says it will continue to monitor Walmart for compliance. We’re sort of confused about how a tag can “shift” or be “inadvertently placed” when it has the name of the product printed on it, but that’s probably because we have a very small brain and can’t fully understand complicated things like honesty.—MEGHANN MARCO

Wal-Mart Corrects Organic Mislabeling Mistakes [CBS] (Thanks, Peter!)
Mislabeling Organic Food at Wal-Mart [Cornucopia Institute]
(Photo: Cornucopia Institute)

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. Moosehawk says:

    In Minnesota, we have a huge deal with fish. A lot of Minnesotans will not eat or buy fish unless it is fresh or some sort of native Minnesotan fish. Wisconsin definitely has the same deal with this kind of stuff.

    Yup, you betcha.

  2. chipslave says:

    Geez… they can’t even spell Stonyfield correctly. How do we expect them to be compliant on organic food?!

  3. Canadian Impostor says:

    “Wal-Mart said that green tags on their shelves, which identify food as organic, may have inadvertently or mistakenly been placed, or accidentally shifted in front of the wrong item.”

    It says “Stony NF French Van” on the label. Unless there’s also organic Stony NF French Van yogurt next to the non-organic stuff, Walmart is full of shit.

  4. Gari N. Corp says:

    I’m tempted to go easy on them this time. Last time we opened a Stonyfield there was this little apology for them not being able to get hold of enough organic milk and promising that they’d be back to organic soon as possible. If they’ve been, um, yo-yo-ing in and out of being organic then it would be easy for Wal-Mart to get confused, even if they do have a world-leading supply chain management system.

  5. Gari N. Corp says:

    Ah, I see, they’ve always had organic and non-organic side by side. String ‘em up sez I..

  6. SadSam says:

    Wal-mart sucks! Is anyone even surprised that Wal-mart might mis-tag an alleged ‘organic’ product, Wal-mart would just as soon let a baby die in its parking lot.

  7. mrosedal says:

    I was going to say I thought that Stonyfield was organic. So I would have honestly made the same mistake. But lets face it. Is the organic thing all that important. I buy Stonyfield for two reasons. My wife is From NH so she grew up on the stuff, and I now prefer it to any other brand. Is organic all that important of a label?

  8. kerry says:

    Actually, there might be. I know stonyfield used to make an organic version, but it was always whole milk not nonfat. Still, there very well could have been a legitimate use for that tag, but the price/stock boy didn’t bother to pay attention and just slapped it next to the first vanilla stonyfield yogurt he saw.

  9. mopar_man says:

    Walmart is full of shit.

    That’s about what it boils down to.

  10. quieterhue says:

    I’m like 90% sure that Stonyfield Farm does not offer an organic version of their non-fat yogurt. The NF in that label stands for non-fat. So that was not a “shifting” situation.

  11. jeff318 says:
  12. bedofnails says:

    You think Walmart is the only company that uses the term “organic” loosely?

    Figures some obese sausage eating f’er in WI would complain. Hey asshole, unless your food, or any other fungible consumer good is being delivered via meteor from off the earth, is it not always organic?

    Then the deep throat USDA comes up with their own “formal” “organic” label so they can play too.

    Go walk the isles of Trader Joes or Whole Foods, half their “organic” crap is just as equally mis-labeled, but of course “those aren’t the droids your looking for.”

    I love reading about people’s vulnerability to Walmart, these are the same people that tell their friends they “only buy organic.”

  13. catnapped says:

    @quieterhue: “Organic, non fat, sugar free, bah…most of our customers wouldn’t know the difference anyway!”

  14. neobolts says:

    LIKELY: Melvin the label making guy screws up.
    UNLIKELY: Evil CEO hates hippy customers and wants to feed they processed foods.

    Shelf labels are usually typed up and printed by an employee in that store, because they reflect what that store has in-stock that day/week. This is most likely attributed to incompetence/ignorance on the part of a single store employee rather than some nonsensical theory of a megacorp duping customers with a particular buying habit.

  15. virgilstar says:

    BFD…

    Stonyfield is owned by Danone
    Burts bees is owned by AEA (a big finance co.)
    Ben & Jerry’s is owned by Unilever
    Body Shop sold out to L’Oreal
    Earthbound farms had over $450m in sales last year

    Yep, all those small mom & pop / organic companies are being bought out by big conglomerates who don’t give a rat’s ass about customers or the environment, just the bottom line.

    Organic doesn’t mean a thing if it takes a bunch of fossil fuel to get it to your plate! Far better to buy local first, then organic second. Shoppping organic at wal-mart is like giving money to large organized charities like the red cross – you know its only scratching the surface of the problem and you’d be far better off dealing with it at the grass roots, but you don’t have the time and it makes you feel warm and fuzzy so you do it anyway.

  16. bedofnails says:

    @virgilstar:

    Wait, you’re supposed to eat healthy because it will help the environment?

    Great argument.

  17. corrosive says:

    Like George Carlin said, everything is natural. Even toxic waste is natural.

  18. Dervish says:

    @bedofnails:

    Yeah, I don’t really buy into the whole “organic” claim either, but you have to admit that the images of “some obese sausage eating f’er” and “organic yogurt buyer” don’t really go hand in hand.

    I’m just saying.

  19. homerjay says:

    In my most sarcastic Jon Stewart-esque voice:
    “WHAT A SHOCK…”

  20. bedofnails says:

    @Dervish:

    Touche.

    They probably wanted the yogurt to top their cottage cheese covered cheese curds.

  21. BritBoy says:

    Forget ‘misleading’ or ‘confused’. Its plain as day. Thats an organic label and this is wrong, regardless of mistake, inadvertent or otherwise.

    Something else fishy, the Walmart public statement says that they have given employees ‘updated guidelines’. Did they publish these guidelines ? What exactly did the guidelines say ? The cynical amongst us might suggest that the guidelines are, “take care to place non-organic Stonyfield REAL close to the organic Stonyfield. And remember, just because a green not-a-label-that-looks-like-a-label says ‘organics’, that doesnt mean products are ‘organic’ as defined by USDA. Indeed the green not-a-label is merely a sign for convenience.”.

    It would be good if Dept. of Agric could send a couple of under cover shoppers to check up on this. One can dream !

    If they are caught again, it should be a fine per pot !!

  22. puka_pai says:

    @neobolts: Shelf labels are usually typed up and printed by an employee in that store, because they reflect what that store has in-stock that day/week.

    Um, no, sorry. The shelf labels are usually sent in a package pre-printed from the corporate printing division (or whatever Wal-Mart calls theirs.) In a regular-sized grocery store, a fraction of the size of Wal-Mart, it’s not uncommon to get over 10,000 labels a week. Nobody has time to type and print that many. The labels that are sent reflect the product assortment that the store carries, that’s true, but not all items are in stock and get labeled every week.

  23. bedofnails says:

    @BritBoy:

    Hey guy, they broke no laws – the USDA certification label was not erroneously placed on any of their merchandise misleading shoppers.

    I love it, undercover Dept. of Aggie shoppers; sweet.

    Will they carry guns, or just be armed with an extremely limp wrist?

  24. Elvisisdead says:

    The thing is that the USDA organic seal means practically nothing. Look for California Organic.

  25. ThePlaz says:

    Stuff is always mislabeled in grocery stores. Either the stockers can’t put the products in rows, or customers pick something up and then don’t put it back. Always read the descriptions on the tags to compare prices. I don’t think this was a conspiracy, tags get mixed up. And read the container too. You could tell that it wasn’t organic. The new guidelines probably said, do better with tagging, which they will for a week and then forget.

  26. mopar_man says:

    The new guidelines probably said, do better with tagging, which they will for a week and then forget.

    That’s putting a lot of faith in Wal-Mart employees.

  27. bedofnails says:

    Why are so many of you down on Walmart?

  28. strathmeyer says:

    Funny, Stonyfield Farm is the only yogurt I buy because it’s the only stuff I can find made with real milk.

    And what’s up with people who are positive about Wal Mart?

  29. MentalDisconnect says:

    @virgilstar: I can personally vouch for Ben and Jerry’s still being awesome, I complained about a flavor change of theirs, and I got a personal response the next day and they’ve changed the flavor back! I’m happy to buy their stuff. Unlike… Walmart… I’ve been in their once (there aren’t even any near where I live, I was out of town) and the place creeped me out.. I can’t contribute much to the Walmart discussion other than my impression from that one visit, and various news articles.

  30. 0x12is18 says:

    @virgilstar: “all those small mom & pop / organic companies are being bought out by big conglomerates…just the bottom line.”

    I think what you meant to say was, “all those small mom & pop / organic companies are selling out to big conglomerates…to increase the bottom line.”

    @BritBoy: I just love when people vilify Wal-mart, which is made up of people. The likeliest thing is that the person had the wrong flags in the printer. When I worked at Wal-mart, I did not work on the grocery side, but when I would go to the back to print out flags for my department (electronics), there would, on occasion, be wrong ones mixed in with the ones I wanted

    @puka_pai: Those “labels” are referred to as “flags” by Wal-mart. Sometimes the home office sends the print job to your computer. Other times, you have to scan the items and choose to batch a print job yourself. Regardless, NONE of the flags (or actual sticky shelf labels) is sent in a package by the home office. Every single one is printed by the individual store on its printer in the back (usually a Lexmark). So don’t assert something you don’t know.

    If you’re going to trash Wal-mart, at least do it for the right reasons and get your facts straight first. Then you’re free to trash all you want (though I will disagree :)

  31. bedofnails says:

    @strathmeyer:

    I don’t believe I’ve posted anything about banging a Walmart drum; however I am rather curious and startled by the absurd and unjustifiable vilification of the company.

    Why get in line to shit on them?

    Walmart “just is”. Why be so unimaginative and attack the largest elephant? I love it.

    It’s always the same “conspiracy” driven people too; yelling things like “If I was corrupt I would make a bunch of money too!”

    Do you believe they’re “baiting” the lower and middle classes out of their hard earned dollar?

    Watch out, you may be fleeced by Walmart any second!

    Someone please explain the “Walmart is bad” rationale to me.

  32. Lonetree says:

    Wow, some people have some pretty nasty comments about people from Wisconsin. Clearly he or she has never been to Wisconsin.

  33. humphrmi says:

    @mrosedal: The reason you buy it is unimportant. There’s nothing wrong with SF, their product, their label, or their ingredients here. The problem is with WalMart and the way they advertise it.

  34. cofosho says:

    Bona fide Wisconsinite AND Minnesotan here. I agree, the typo, though misleading, was likely an innocent mistake. They probably won’t be proactive about it, knowing Wal-Mart.

    My beef with them is not that they’re fleecing people of money. It’s that they turn a profit doing everything that should put a business under. They sell shoddy products. They undercut competition to close other businesses down and control the market. They lack in customer service. The list goes on… Those people exalt the “Always Low Prices”, but their community health, people and consumer choices suffer extremely.

    Also:

    In Minnesota, we have a huge deal with fish. A lot of Minnesotans will not eat or buy fish unless it is fresh or some sort of native Minnesotan fish. Wisconsin definitely has the same deal with this kind of stuff.

    I’m down to eat fish from clean lakes. I think the most likely places for that are up nord, like the BWCA. Here in Madison, the phosphate and mercury levels are absurdly high. Smart people know to catch and release. It’s mostly carp anyway.

  35. cofosho says:

    Oh, and additionally, I work for a small fruit vendor who sells both commercial and organic. He hems and haws over organic prices, but he enjoys offering the option and can still turn some profit. He worries continuously about Wal-Mart’s recent decision to sell organic, that it will have a top down effect starting with vendors. If that happens, his prices go up, and he stops selling organic, allowing Wal-Mart to capture the market.

    But you all knew that already.

  36. Trai_Dep says:

    We need to get a little voting icon next to each name that says, “PR shill”. I get the distinct impression that Wal-Mart (or yammering Bushies) have invaded Consumerist to post apologetic bullcrap for any mistake that Wal-Mart, Exxon, et. al make.

    Or more precisely, a consulting ad firm promising to Wal-Mart, “We understand the internets! Give us $1m/quarter and we’ll fix you up”?

    Hey, supervisors of the PR shills: fire ‘em for being so bleeding obvious. Really, they’re pathetic. And they make you look bad.

  37. Asvetic says:

    An even easier way to discern if a product is organic or not is to turn it over and look at the ingredients. The ingredients should be easily read and subsequently found in the vary store you’re in.

    Stonyfield organic milk is pretty tasty.

  38. Cap'n Jack says:

    This isn’t news though. Supermarkets across the country are labeling foods as ‘Organic’ right on the packaging when it’s not organic at all.

  39. bedofnails says:

    @cofosho:

    “..They undercut competition to close other businesses down and control the market.”

    Yea, capitalism is a bitch.

  40. fatal616 says:

    Well stoneyfarm is organic according to their site soooo yeah. Bad pic to go with the article.

  41. OrganicGeorge says:

    Let’s start with come facts.

    Wal-Mart made a mistake with shelf tags. I seen a lot worse in my small local independent health food store.

    The State of Wisconsin did not press charges since it was an honest mistake. The Stonyfield Yogurt was not labeled as organic so there was no fraud.

    Yes for the past 2 years there has been a terrible shortage of organic milk. Today there is a glut of organic milk. Why? But because of a lawsuit, the Harvey case, supported by organic consumer activist, that had unintended consequences. The judge in the Harvey case ruled that a regulation that allowed whole dairy herd conversion was not in keeping with the 3 year transition rule. So hundreds of dairies both large and small rushed herd conversion to beat the deadline.

    Now organic dairy farmers are facing lower milk prices just as the prices for organic feed are skyrocketing.

    The point of this long winded story is that, just like the Bush administration, these activist raise non-issues to a frenzy, so consumers will not see the real damage they have done to organics in general.