A public interest group focused on food and agriculture is accusing Target of falsely promoting Silk soymilk as being organic.
The Cornucopia Institute filed a complaint with the United States Department of Agriculture, alleging that Target was misleading consumers in its national newspaper advertisements for Silk.
The ads picture the Silk carton with the word "organic" on the label. However, the product has not been certifiably organic since the spring when manufacturer Dean Foods began using soybeans that had not been USDA certified.
While its complaint is filed against Target, Cornucopia Institute is placing much of the responsibility for the confusion on Dean Foods. "Target is almost the victim here of the subterfuge by Dean Foods, that took a brand that used to be 100 percent organic and slowly converted it to conventional soybean and labeled it 'natural,'" said Mark Kastel, co-director of the institute, which is based in Cornucopia, Wis.
Dean Foods changed the organic character of its Silk product; it did not change its UPC code or explicitly inform consumers, said Kastel.
In a statement, the WhiteWave division of Dean Foods, which oversees the Silk products, said that, "As demand for organic and natural food products continues to grow, WhiteWave remains dedicated to providing a variety of options to satisfy a broad range of consumer demands. Silk continues to offer both organic and natural options to consumers, both of which are carried at Target." The statement went on to say that, "all Silk and Horizon organic and natural products are clearly labeled as such."
A Target rep said, "It is not appropriate for us to further comment at this time, but we are trying to investigate into this matter right now."
Cornucopia Institute has gone on the offensive against retailers, alleging inaccurate organic labeling, several times in the past few years. In 2006, the group said Walmart's in-store signage incorrectly referred to its products as organic. In the end, the retailer signed consent agreements with the USDA and the state of Wisconsin committing to change this practice.
Target was also recently criticized over the advertising of its private label Archer Farms line, which the interest group claimed blurred the line between natural and organic.
Kastel said marketing departments don't put enough focus on whether the products they are promoting are in fact natural or organic. "It shouldn't take an independent watchdog to run their business to make sure that they're conforming to the letter and the spirit of the organic law," he said. "In the long run they need to hire competent, experienced people with both retailing and organic certification backgrounds. We've got to follow the rules."