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by Ellen Lee
Nature’s Goodness’ oatmeal cereal with cinnamon is one of the most poorly rated baby foods on the market, offering less than the recommended amount of iron per serving. Gerber Graduate’s cherry fruit puffs don’t fare well either. Stonyfield Farm’s simply plain YoBaby organic whole milk yogurt, however, rises to the top, with good nutritional value, a reputation for fair labor rights and environmentally friendly practices.
That’s according to GoodGuide, a resource for consumers that rates and reviews more than 101,300 products, from baby food to body wash. Do the ingredients contain potentially toxic chemicals? Do they test their products on animals? Do they pay their factory workers fairly?
San Francisco’s GoodGuide arms parents with that sort of information to help them make better shopping decisions. The ratings and reviews are available online, as well as on mobile phones through an iPhone or Android app. Scan the barcode of a product and it will search its database and show the rating, from 0 to 10 – all while you’re standing in the store aisle with your shopping cart.
GoodGuide is one of the emerging resources that parents can tap to sort through the hype, marketing and increasingly popular yet sometimes dubious claims of being “all natural,” “healthy” or “organic.” Founded by Dara O’Rourke, a UC-Berkeley environmental sciences professor and father, it began as a university research project and is now a San Francisco startup.
“I wanted to know what was being put in and on and around my family,” O’Rourke said.
The project began about five years ago as O’Rouke was putting sunscreen on his then 3-year-old daughter. He paused to consider its ingredients and soon returned to campus to research it. It turned out that the popular sunscreen contained questionable ingredients, as did a number of other items his family used at home.
Today, GoodGuide deploys a small team of scientists and researchers to systematically review commonly used goods in about 600 categories, such as dog food, baby formula, children’s apparel and washers and dryers. The number of categories keeps growing.
GoodGuide’s researchers and scientists study ingredients and make up to give a product a health rating. They look into the manufacturing of the product to give it an environment score. And, they assess the company’s business practices and contributions to come up with a society rating. The three are combined for an overall score, with 10 as the best, 0 as the worst.
Stonyfield Farm’s YoBaby, for example, received a score of 7.8, including a perfect 10 for health, a 6.7 for society and a 6.5 for environment because of its efforts to reduce energy use.
Nature’s Goodness’ oatmeal cereal, on the other hand, received a 2 for health because of the aforementioned lack of the recommended amount of iron per serving. Gerber Graduate’s cherry fruit puffs received a 4.7 for health for the same reason. That led both to fall to the bottom of the more than 850 baby food products GoodGuide reviewed.
Heidi Young, a mom of three in San Francisco, said she checks GoodGuide’s database before she goes shopping for items such as shampoo and conditioner, sunscreen and facial soap.
“Certainly with kids it’s made me think even harder about what I bring into the house,” she said.
GoodGuide isn’t the only resource available for consumers. The nonprofit Environmental Working Group publishes an online Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, an annual sunscreen guide and a cell phone radiation report. Consumer Reports also reviews household appliances, electronics, and baby and children’s products.
Funded by Silicon Valley venture capitalists after it spun out of UC-Berkeley, GoodGuide aims to be the most comprehensive and easy to use. It also plans to keep its service free and accessible online and on the go.
So far, GoodGuide has seen approximately 500,000 downloads of its iPhone app; its website has had a steady increase of traffic of 10 percent a month. It also launched its Android app in April.
Ultimately, O’Rouke said he also hopes GoodGuide will challenge brands to be more open about their products and business practices. He has fielded a number of angry calls from manufacturers, particularly ones that received low scores for not disclosing the full list of ingredients in their products. Many of them, he said, have learned that it benefits them to be more transparent. That’s good for consumers.
“It empowers you in a way that you as consumer have never been empowered before,” O’Rourke said. “You have always been at the mercy of the marketers. The marketers tell you what they want you to believe about the product. I’m excited about the move toward transparency, toward consumer empowerment.”
Ellen Lee writes about technology for Bay Area Parent.
GoodGuide – goodguide.com
Environmental Working Group – ewg.org
Consumer Reports – consumerreports.org
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This is a great article and I'd really like to have the Good Guide on my phone. Shall share that on Facebook as well.
There are many apps that make life better for parents and families now. I was going to mention that once you download a free scan app you can scan barcodes or QR Codes for more information about products or services. Then you just center the barcode or QR code in the phone screen.
11/16/2011 - 04:32 pm