10 Watchdog Organizations That Care For Consumers

As an eco-conscious parent, you’re likely always keeping an ear to the ground on the latest in environmental and health policy, and researching what’s best for you and your family—but who are the groups pushing to make change happen? And who’s working to keep you in the know?  Here are some of the consumer education and advocacy groups you’ve likely heard of, but may not know a lot about—looking out for our planet, our food supply, and you.

Born Free USA


Founded in 2002 as an offshoot of the U.K.-based Born Free Foundation, the U.S. organization is a conservation and animal rescue nonprofit based in Sacramento, California. “Our goal is to end the suffering of wild animals in captivity, conserve threatened and endangered species, and encourage compassionate conservation around the world,” says CEO Adam M. Roberts.

What they’re doing for you: Born Free USA leads a number of campaigns, but some of their most influential work includes advocating against the trapping and fur trade industry, the keeping of exotic pets in captivity, and fighting for animal welfare and conservation. The organization is currently petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the African lion as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and their campaign to stop exotic pet trafficking includes not only legislative advocacy, but also raising public awareness about the animal welfare and human safety involved with buying wild animals like monkeys, leopards, and snakes.

Visit them online at bornfreeusa.org

Green America


What started 30 years ago as a nonprofit connecting consumers looking for eco-friendly products with green businesses, has grown into an organization that not only educates consumers, but advocates for large-scale environmental and social issues as well, through campaigns like the Climate Action Campaign and the Fair Trade Alliance.

What they’re doing for you: To increase public awareness, Green America has several online sites for consumers, including their National Green Pages, which lists Green America certified businesses, and their Responsible Shopper guide, helping consumers make informed decisions about the companies they’re buying from. When it comes to environmental preservation and human rights, their Guide to Ending Sweatshops project helps consumers make sweatshop-free clothing purchases.

Visit them online at greenamerica.org

Cornucopia Institute


The goal of the Cornucopia Institute is to “promote economic justice for family-scale farmers, primarily in the organic community,” says the organic watchdog organization’s policy director, Charlotte Vallaeys. Whether that’s by bringing attention to brands using nonregulated, and therefore non-verified, terms (like “all-natural”) in order to compete with smaller organic companies, or ensuring that regulations are followed by food producers so consumers can trust the organic label—if it’s in the organic food sector, Cornucopia has likely impacted policy.

What they’re doing for you: If you follow consumer advocacy groups, you’ve probably heard of Cornucopia’s numerous scorecards and shopping lists (all of which can be found on their website), providing consumers with information about the products they see in stores. And several of their reports, including the Organic Cereal and Dairy Reports, have brought a commitment from companies to change ingredients in their products.

Visit them online at cornucopia.org

Fair Trade USA


Fair Trade USA is a nonprofit that works with U.S. companies that sell products carrying the Fair Trade Certified label and the international suppliers they source from to ensure both sides are meeting requirements of Fair Trade practices. This means ensuring better prices and wages, safe working conditions, and strict environmental standards for farmers; a stronger, more transparent supply chain for businesses; and for consumers, an “easy way to know that the products you buy are supporting farming communities,” says spokesperson Katie Barrow.

What they’re doing for you: Fair Trade USA’s main goal is mainstreaming Fair Trade to further its impact on farmers—the organization currently partners with more than 800 U.S. companies, including Whole Foods Market, Green Mountain Coffee, and Honest Tea, who all use Fair Trade ingredients. And every October, the organization holds educational events, in-store sampling programs, community gatherings, and more in honor of Fair Trade Month.

Visit them online at fairtradeusa.org

Non-GMO Project


The goal of this mission-driven nonprofit is simple: to provide non-GMO labeling for all products produced in accordance with the organization’s standards. “By verifying and labeling products made without GMOs, we’re giving the public the information they deserve and at the same time, leveraging the power of the marketplace to drive demand for non-GMO ingredients and production,” says Assistant Director Courtney Pineau.

What they’re doing for you: The Non-GMO Project is the only one in North America to offer third-party verification for GMO avoidance—which is crucial since non-GMO claims aren’t regulated by the federal government. There are now over 10,000 verified products available to consumers, says Pineau. And in 2013, Whole Foods Market, who currently carries more than 3,000 Non-GMO Project verified products, committed to labeling all products in their U.S. and Canadian stores by 2018 to indicate whether they contain GMOs.

Visit them online at nongmoproject.org

Environmental Working Group (EWG)


This nonprofit started 20 years ago when its founders put out the group’s first consumer awareness report on pesticides found in kids’ food. Since then, the EWG has published numerous reports and guides to help educate consumers on what might be in the products they bring home, says Alex Formuzis, vice president of media relations. Their main policy areas focus on toxic chemicals and human health, farming and agricultural subsidies, and public lands and corporate accountability.

What they’re doing for you: Take your pick: The group’s annual Dirty Dozen list of foods with the highest pesticide residue has become a go-to source for shoppers, and their Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, which matches chemicals used in personal care products against toxicity databases, has influenced numerous companies to remove ingredients from their products. The organization is also researching the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing and is a major lobbyist for reform in the way governmental farm subsidies are set up, says Formuzis.

Visit them online at ewg.org

Organic Consumers Association (OCA)


The OCA is an online and grassroots nonprofit public interest organization campaigning for health, justice, and sustainability, says Alexis Baden-Mayer, the group’s political director. “We deal with crucial issues such as food safety, industrial agriculture, genetic engineering, children’s health, environmental sustainability, and other key topics.”

What they’re doing for you: In 2012, the organization’s Organic Consumers Fund, which focuses on creating and strengthening legislation in the organic sector, raised $1.5 million to support the Prop 37 campaign, a California ballot initiative to label genetically engineered food. Currently, they’re organizing members to support the I-44 campaign, which would pass a GMO labeling law in Oregon state. And one of the OCA’s biggest campaigns for 2014 focuses on protecting farmers from unwanted genetic cross-contamination by banning GMOs from communities that want to stay organic and non-GMO.

Visit them online: at organicconsumers.org

Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)


This consumer advocacy group was founded in 1971 with the goal to improve the safety and nutritional quality of America’s food supply, says CSPI’s communications coordinator, Clare Politano. “We seek to eradicate diet-related illness (like diabetes and heart disease) by providing objective nutrition information to the public, and promote a healthier food environment.”

What they’re doing for you: Ever scan the nutrition labels on a bag of pretzels before tossing it in your shopping cart? Or checked for a USDA certified-organic label on your fruits and veggies? You have the CSPI to thank for it—their campaigns resulted in legisla- tion requiring Nutrition Facts labels on packaged food and the passage of the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act, which set up the authority for the USDA to oversee organic labeling. Furthermore, the nonprofit has been instrumental in winning passage of laws improving school foods, and establishing a modern food safety program, says Politano. And they’re currently working with policymakers and the food industry to lower the sodium content of packaged foods.

Visit them online at cspinet.org

Momsrising.org


This organization, which has nearly 1.1 million members, works both online and on the ground for women, mothers, and families to increase family economic security, decrease discrimination against women and moms, and create public policy and educational outreach to its members and the public. “We deliver the voices of moms to the very top and let elected leaders know what’s really going on with women across America,” says MomsRising.org co-founder and executive director Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner.

What they’re doing for you: The nonprofit has been influential in the passage of a number of legislative issues, including laws throughout the country for earned sick days, clean air regulation and policy, pushing for healthy snacks and lunches in schools, and making breast pumps tax-deductible, says Rowe-Finkbeiner. Activists have also helped institute a policy for pump breaks for moms taking the LSAT, campaigned for realistic and fair wages, and worked towards instituting gun safety policies.

Visit them online: MomsRising.org

Organic Trade Association (OTA)


ota

This membership-based business association, started in 1995, aims to “promote and protect the growth of organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public, and the economy,” says Executive Vice President Laura Batcha. “Our vision is that organic products become a significant part of everyday life, enhancing people’s lives and the global environment.”

WHAT THEY’RE DOING FOR YOU: According to Batcha, the company is currently working on facilitating a discussion about potential national research and a program to promote organic agriculture and products, and they continue to advocate for policies that protect the organic brand, like mandatory labeling of GMO-containing products—in fact, in 2012 they partnered with the national Just Label It: We Have The Right To Know campaign.

Visit them online: ota.com