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Do Food Labels Really Mean Anything?

Hoosier Ag Today by: Gary Truitt

Do Food Labels Really Mean Anything?

Information on food products today is a combination of facts, marketing hype, and false claims. Add to that consumer misperceptions of food production, and you have a real mess. Some companies are trying to bring some truth to the labeling lies and are calling for stricter definitions of some key terms.

Natural, organic, sustainable, and GMO free are all terms you will find on food labels today, but do they really mean anything and do consumers understand what they are buying?   Walmart announced this week that they are moving toward cage-free eggs, but since most shoppers have no idea how chickens are raised or what cage-free really means, the claim is somewhat meaningless.

Kelly Shea, VP of White Wave Foods, says only terms that are third party verified really mean anything, “We do not put the term ‘natural’ on our products because it is meaningless. We believe in third party verification.” She said they use the USDA Certified Organic standards for an organic label.

Dr. Christiane Daugherty, with Tyson Foods, says it is up to consumers to do their homework to sort out the claims, “You really have to dig through the weeds.  There are a lot of sources out there that are questionable, so do your homework and find a credible source.”

Some claim that the term “organic” is only put on a product so it will get a higher price. But Dan Dye, with Ardent Mills, says it is more expensive for producers to meet the USDA certified organic standards, “For example, a wheat producer must wait three years before he can get an organic certification, so it takes a big investment.”

Many organic food companies are now asking the government to crack down on the use of the term organic before the term is so misused it becomes meaningless.

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