WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2014 – The Environmental Working Group
has released an online database with entries on more than 80,000 foods that it
hopes will help consumers make healthier choices at the grocery store, but critics maintain will only add to the confusion about "good" versus "bad" foods, setting up price-conscious consumers for even more difficult choices.
The database – Food Scores: Rate Your Plate – took three years to compile, and EWG says it is “the most comprehensive food-rating database available to consumers.” The database scores products - separate from any unbiased, government source - on three criteria which it has compiled: nutrition, ingredients, and processing.
Ken Cook, EWG president and cofounder, said the database profiles the use of 5,000 food ingredients from 1,500 brands in 80,000 different foods. Cook said the undertaking was ambitious.
“This is a very large database project, even by
Environmental Working Group Standards,” Cook said, pointing to other EWG
databases on topics such as farm subsidies and personal care products. “But
this one stands out.” EWG has been widely known for trying to influence the farm bill debate by aggregating decades of farm subsidies for individual farming operations.
In the database, food products are given an EWG score based on weighted ratings for nutrition, ingredients and processing concerns. It also includes the traditional nutrition and ingredient information that would be displayed on the product’s packaging.
The database is entirely searchable, enabling a user looking for anything from the healthiest potato chip to any foods containing added sugars, which Cook said is about 58 percent of food. An iPhone app was also unveiled enabling shoppers to scan a product’s bar code and gain the same information accessible from the website. The app also gives shoppers the ability to find a comparable food product with a better score.
Rather than simply listing the ingredients and nutrition information, EWG wanted to describe how the ingredients affect human health.
“Our goal was to go beyond just nutrition - which is what most food databases and apps really focus on - and look at a much wider range of factors that we know that consumers care about,” said Renee Sharp, EWG’s director of research.
The database’s search mechanism also
allows users to apply sorting options to find products that are certified
organic, GMO-free, or gluten-free, in keeping with the organization’s
preference for organic foods. Cook also said that although EWG receives
financial assistance from several organic food companies, none of those
companies provided financing for this project.
“We think people will shop smarter, and we think we’re going to ring some bells in the food industry that it’s time for them to pay closer attention to the ingredients they put in food, because consumers now have a new tool to know exactly what it is food companies are putting in those products,” Cook said.
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