You’ve snugly secured your lunch, a chicken sandwich with vegetable fixings and mayo, in plastic cling wrap. But is your lettuce local, your chicken free range and your plastic free of #3 PVC? True, the thought of eating only perfectly clean, chemical-free food seems at times an overwhelming task. But the clutter of opinions and information on the Web has slowly given way to a more organized set of standards.
Some products are easier to dissect, ingredient-wise, than others. For instance, in the GLAD Web site FAQ section, the company reveals that it does not use PVC or BPA (Bisphenol-A), a potentially harmful and oft-debated ingredient used in many plastic water bottles.
But not all companies make the contents of their products available to consumers. Luckily, there’s GoodGuide, a so-called “B Corporation” that harnesses “the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.” The staff at GoodGuide ranks products’ impact on human health, the environment and other social factors, such as labor force. To determine rankings, GoodGuide consults with experts at academic institutions and nongovernmental organizations, considers government data and works with “private research firms.” The site is in beta, but plans to eventually allow users to sort through ranked products according to their own value systems. Read the GoodGuide Transparency Manifesto to get a handle on the site’s ambitious mission.
GoodGuide cofounder Dara O’Rourke, a professor of environmental and labor policy at the University of California, Berkeley, was profiled by Michael B. Farrell for The Christian Science Monitor last month. O’Rourke explains that GoodGuide can help people “make better choices about what they buy,” and contends that “[t]ransparency will make the world better.” O’Rourke’s endeavor, which has involved “scientists and engineers working out of an office in downtown San Francisco” over the past year or so, already boasts 75,000 rated products. GoodGuide seems fast on its way to becoming “a sort of CliffsNotes to the confounding and complex world of ingredients typically—but not always—found listed on the back of everyday products,” Farrell noted.
Concerned consumers can also turn to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an organization that provides helpful information on food additives like artificial food dyes, caffeine and high-fructose corn syrup. The site also discusses the safety of the additives in its glossary, and has a list of banned additives.
And for general advice about reading and understanding food labels, read findingDulcinea’s "Foodie" column on the subject.