Food labeling has reached a feverpitch. But it hasn’t made shopping for healthy food any easier.
A recent survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation and the American Heart Association show that 95% of Americans say they always or sometimes look for healthy options when food shopping. But only 28% say that information is easy to find.
The problem partially stems from confusion over the nutritional panel and ingredient list. And some survey takers would like to see a universal or uniform icon to denote food is “healthy.”
I don’t think it’s much of a stretch, but here’s a bold conclusion. Maybe consumers are confused because we slap a bunch of marketing labels on food products and pretend they have something to do with nutrition?
The “natural” label for example. The word has absolutely no set definition, though the FDA is supposedly working on it. Yet we find this word on all sorts of products. Does it mean minimally-processed? Maybe, but what the heck does that mean? Regardless, just because a product is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s healthy for you (read: the natural fallacy).
What about the non-GMO label? Whether a crop is genetically modified has nothing to do with nutritional values. Heck, it doesn’t even have anything to do with safety. Quite frankly, when it comes to choosing a food product at the grocery store, unless you’re buying Arctic Apples, it makes absolutely no difference.
Consider the organic label. It’s a marketing term; it’s overseen by the USDA’s marketing branch. Studies have shown that there is no meaningful difference between it and conventionally-produced food. The outcome is the same. But one thing about it is certain, it has nothing to do with whether a product is healthy or not.
These examples are only a small portion of the marketing claims we routinely see on food. None of them help us determine whether food is healthy for us. But they all pretend to have some bearing on the matter. These quasi-health claims just make everything more confusing for already-confused shoppers.
So where is the FDA? It’s tasked with oversight on food labeling. Yet Dr. Gottlieb and his team stay silent on these persistent problems. And even if they define some nonsensical claims, it’s doubtful that consumers will really understand the meaning. Honestly, how many people understand the contours of the new bioengineered labeling law?
We’ve reached a boiling point. The claims, allegations, and outright nonsense are reaching a tipping point. And consumers just don’t know what the heck to believe anymore. We can, and must, do better.
Roger Guevremont says
The producer wants his product to sell. He hires the most clever marketing people he can afford. His package has to attract the buyer, more colorful, more distinctive, more outrageous. Did you see the word ‘truthful’, ‘valid’ or ‘easy to understand’ in any of that? NO. Perhaps the solution will be a publication that describes the health aspects of our food. Why does it not exist? Because of money. The money we spend on an object is split into several pockets, including to the distributor, and to the marketing folks. How much goes to the producer or farmer? How much goes to production of a serious, accurate health description document? ………………………………. Will consumers read, and decide on which products to purchase based on this document? How many consumers would read it and use it to guide them?