Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I Love Öko-Test

Photo: Audrey Mei
For me, love in Germany has a name: Öko-Test.

Öko-Test is a German institution and monthly magazine that's been around since 1985. Öko-Test tests every product in the German market – food, clothing, toys, insurance, detergents, you name it – and gives it a rating. Products that are crowned with Öko-Test's highest rating "very good", as seen on the butter in the photo above ("sehr gut"), display it proudly because consumers in Germany will know that the product is really good. Öko-Test doesn't mess aroundÖko-Test means business.

I rely on Öko-Test mostly for its food testing since the highly visible red-and-white seal makes it easy to choose a brand when I'm at the marketÖko-Test scrutinizes food products for the honesty of their ingredients, taste, freshness, and the presence of toxins, bacteria, pesticides, GMO's, undeclared synthetic flavorings or vitamins, added sugars, and even rogue chemicals that migrate into the food through its packaging. Products are also evaluated for their sustainability, environmental burden, animal treatment (where applicable), and social responsibility.

That's a lot of testing. 

Compare this to our own Consumer Reports magazine, which only tests food for nutrition, taste, and price. I don't know about you, but I don't care how good my yogurt tastes if it's full of pesticides and BPA leached from its plastic container.

Even products from organic companies flunk the Öko-Test sometimes (actually, quite often) since some factors like packaging and freshness are not part of what makes a product organic. It certainly keeps producers on their toes. Results from a 2013 Öko-Test found that nearly of organic olive oils tested contained unacceptably high amounts of pesticides. Another test from 2012 found that one brand of butter was falsely advertising with pictures of green meadows on its wrapper. Öko-Test's examination had revealed too little omega-3 fatty acids, meaning that the cows weren't eating grass after all, but grain. The pastoral image was removed.

Are some companies unhappy about receiving an Öko F? Of course, and they will issue statements that remind readers that "Well gosh guys, you shouldn't draw conclusions from two pieces of rotten meat full of antibiotic-resistant bacteria" and that Öko-Test's standards are higher than national legal standards. Take GMO content, for example. Germany's food labeling law allows products with up to 0.9% GMO to be declared "GMO-free". Öko-Test demands zero percent.

Considering that the amount of additives in American foods has exploded while FDA regulations decrease, and in the light of consumer uploads like these worms crawling out of a newly-bought salmon filet, I would feel a lot safer about raising my child in the States if food corporations could be pilloried like they are in Germany. Wouldn't it be great to have Öko-Test in the US? Or, in a more perfect world, in China where food safety scandals are rampant? 

Öko-Test did just start up in China last month. And things got awkward real fast. Read more here.

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