It’s a good question. Various folks have various things they use to make buying decisions. Some people make purchases on prices, some on brands, and some on ingredients. But as companies are increasingly merged and food sources are increasingly using GMOs (genetically modified organisms) it’s as increasingly difficult to figure out who your money is going to.
Until now. Recently, Buycott, an app designed to give you the manufacturer and family tree, as well as political affiliation of the manufacturer launched on iOS and Android platforms for mobile devices. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2013/05/14/new-app-lets-you-boycott-koch-brothers-monsanto-and-more-by-scanning-your-shopping-cart/)
As simple as scanning the bar code of an item at the store or in your cart, you can learn the manufacturer, the parent company, whether it’s perhaps containing GMO, organic, and if the parent company supports or actively avoids supporting various causes.
The app is free, and in its gestational stage. I used it today on a routine trip to my local grocery store, and probably got more than a few strange looks as to why I was pointing my phone at bar codes. I checked produce, dry goods, pre-packaged meals, and health & body products. And I had entirely too much fun.
As an example of the various screens, I’m going to actually start with Angel Soft. A four-pack of TP found in many convenience, drug, and supermarket stores.
The first screen – “info” is where you line up the bar code in the camera. Pretty simple, and it’s important that you do avoid shadows or glares. It takes a bit of practice to get the distance right but it’s pretty damned intuitive.
The second screen shows the “family tree” of the product scanned. Angel Soft is manufactured by Georgia Pacific, a division of Koch Industries. Koch Industries heavily supported several super-conservative super-PACs essentially using the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling to try and buy elections. Needless to say, I’m not a big fan of the Koch boys.
The third screen, “campaigns” shows groups either supporting or combating the company’s practices. As you’ll see, there are groups in both support of and against the Koch boys, as well as another group called “ALEC” — the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is known as a pro-business, generally anti-consumer PAC and claims non-partisan 501(c)4 tax exempt status.
Another example, the average box of Kraft Mac & Cheese:
To save the family tree, what this scan ends up showing is that one of the campaigns associated with the scan is GMO-labeling. Currently there’s no standard to labeling GMOs nationally. There have been efforts on state-by-state levels, but you really don’t know what you’re eating. It’s a generally known fact that many grain sources are GMO now, and the app doesn’t come out and say “HEY THIS STUFF HAS BEEN ENGINEERED”.
An organic entry:
Pretty self-explanatory. It’s organic, doesn’t have any group saying it’s falsely labeled or should cause concern, and hey, looks like it’s not some huge corporate clearing house for tofu.
Now, this app, Buycott, is in its gestational phase. It doesn’t have everything in its database yet, and to that end it allows users to contribute where they can (ie, store brands).
Case in point, Publix Greenwise Organic Carrots.
Adding to the database is pretty intuitive as well. Just enter the info, click submit, voila.
It doesn’t yet (it seems) scan loose produce and QR codes. I tried five different conventionally grown and two different organic PLU veggies and got this:
The PLU — produce lookup number — is fairly universal, as are the codes assigned to various types. For example, 4011 is a conventional banana. 94011 is an organically grown banana, and a banana tagged 84011 is a GMO fruit. The number structure tends to hold true across the board, with conventionally grown fruits and veggies in the 3xxx or 4xxx category. Organics add a 9 at the front, engineered add an 8. Pretty simple, even better if you grow your own. For more info on PLU designations, check out: http://www.nutritiousamerica.com/blog/food-labeling-how-to-identify-organic-conventional-and-genetically-modified-produce
A user review: As I said, it’s in its gestational phase. By the year’s end I’ll wager it will be one of the most downloaded apps on both iOS and Android platform, and I’m hoping upgrades will be forthcoming. If you don’t know who makes what products you’re buying, it’s a good tool to help you stay away from companies you have reservations about. The campaigns tab also helps inform consumers — for example the aspirin BC Powder, is part of the Glaxo-Smith-Kline family. Not only did it pull all its funding from the ALEC PAC, but the campaign tab also shows the company is vegan and doesn’t test its products on animals. I’ve used BC powder for years to combat pop up headaches and had no idea. By the same token, I knew Georgia Pacific was a Koch Industries subsidiary. Another future improvement could well be tagging products as GMO, but I think the blowback from legal challenges by manufacturers could be tricky.
I haven’t tested this on anything but groceries yet, but I imagine you could scan anything with a barcode — clothing, cosmetics, home improvement products, etc.