Meaningless Food Labels We Tend to Believe

Accurate.
 
Easy-to-read.
 
Scientifically valid nutritional information.
 
All 3 are essential components of a comprehensive health strategy to help consumers improve their diets and reduce diseases when shopping at their local grocery store.[*]
 
With the natural/organic food category growing over 400% in the last 20 years,  it really shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that companies are cashing in by resorting to exaggerated, misleading or flat out false claims to gain a dollar in this growing market.[*][*][*][*]
 
In fact, companies spend billions in shady advertising to get you to purchase their product. Millions of which are spent in finding just the right words and written language to give them an advantage over the other guy (via test marketing, segmentation, positioning, branding, targeting, consumer research).[*]

 
Here is a list of the most common examples of false claims and other labeling shenanigans by the US food industry.

 
 
Natural
Also commonly labeled All Natural, 100% Natural, Naturally Raised
 

 
Obviously, products claiming to be natural (particularly those aimed at parents) have a competitive edge in the marketplace…it shouldn’t surprise us to see this label on literally EVERYTHING nowadays.[*] 
 
As you may know, the Natural label is an extremely general claim that often causes a consumer to imply a product or packaging is made from or is innate to our environment.[*]
 
Some consumers may even interpret claims such as “All Natural” or “100% Natural” as indicating a more nutritious or wholesome food product than it really is.[*]
 
In actuality, the FDA and the USDA regulate the term “natural” differently. So let’s clarify.[*]
 
 
FDA: Easy enough, the agency has never issued formal rules to clarify what the term ‘Natural’ represents. This is because, according to the FDA : “From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is 'natural' because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth”.[*][*]
 
In essence, all products labeled Natural that are not meat or poultry – have no merit at all.
 
…and that’s it for the FDA’s definition of the term.

 
 
USDA: Unlike the FDA, the USDA has formal policy (since 1982) on the term Natural. This policy declares all fresh meat and poultry (note, NOT eggs or dairy) carrying the “natural” claim must not contain any artificial flavoring, color ingredients, chemical preservatives, or artificial or synthetic ingredients, and the meat is “minimally processed” defined by USDA as a process that does not fundamentally alter the raw product.[*][*]
 
It may be worth noting that the USDA permits products to be labeled “100% Natural” or “All Natural” even if they contain added chicken broth, beef broth and/or saline water which can raise the sodium content of the product to unnatural levels.[*]
 
Although some producers may use the term “natural” on meat to claim that animals were not exposed to any antibiotics or hormones, this implication falls outside the scope of the USDA definition.[*]
 
Antibiotic use and/or hormone claims are not approved/regulated by the Natural label under the USDA.[*]
 
Also worth noting, the natural label does not include any standards regarding farm practice (ex. humane treatment/animal rights).[*]
 
Regarding annual verification on Natural claims, the USDA has defined the use of the term and can hold manufacturers accountable to the proper use of the claim but does NOT currently have a verification system in place to verify products after the initial approval prior to marketing. [*][*]
 
It may be worth noting that GMO ingredients are commonly used in food, beverages and/or feed used in beef/poultry/pig production that is then later labeled Natural.
 
In fact, a Hartman Group poll in 2010 illustrated that over 60 percent of consumers mistakenly believe that the "natural" label implies or suggests the absence of genetically engineered (GMO) ingredients.[*] 
 
Of course, some may propose that GMO ingredients are not different then the naturally occurring thing (be it animal or plant). But consider, you are genetically manipulating a plant or animal that becomes an organism that has never existed prior in nature…seems pretty UNnatural to me…
 
In 2010, the FDA purported that the consumer can read the label for themselves and determine if the item is natural – unfortunately, GMO ingredients are not required to be labeled (which may make it a tad difficult for consumers to read it).[*][*]
 
 
Bottom line – Natural only has real value when referring to meat and poultry when products are initially approved for marketing by the USDA (after initial approval, there is no verification system in place to validate/re-confirm claims).
 
 
 
Organic
 

You may be asking yourself why is the USDA Organic food label on this list….true, the Organic label comes with MUCH more merit then the ‘Natural’ label, I give you that…
 
However, the USDA Organic label is quickly losing the integrity it once possessed…for several reasons.
 
You may not realize, but to a very large extent, large NON-organic corporations have now come to dominate the organic food market and hold several seats on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).
 
These food corporations include — Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Cargill, ConAgra, General Mills, Kraft and M&M Mars.[*][*]
 
Fun note about the NOSB, this board is in charge of making recommendations regarding which substances are allowed and which are prohibited in organic food. The NOSB serves as an advisory board to USDA.[*]
 
It may not be too surprising, as large corporate memberships on the board increase, so has the number of nonorganic materials approved for organic foods. This list is called the National List. In 2002, 77 ingredients (such as baking soda) constructed the National List… today, more than 250 nonorganic substances are listed. [*]
 
I highly recommend you check out the National List for yourself…a very interesting read.
 
You might note carrageenan, a seaweed-derived thickener, is on the List. This might be interesting since it has a somewhat controversial background. Yet, the National Organic Standards Board voted 10 to 5 to keep carrageenan on the growing list of nonorganic ingredients that can be used in organic labeled foods.[*] 
 
Ammonium Nonanoate, an herbicide, was voted to be added to the list in DEC 2011. Those who voted on the Board for the addition were General Mills, Campbell’s Soup, Organic Valley, Whole Foods Market and Earthbound Farms. Luckily, the vote did not win the two-thirds majority that it needed – if it did, it would have been the first time a herbicide was placed on the list.[*]
 
There is also the issue of repeat failures of inspection and regulation of those using the Organic label.
 
In March 2010, an audit by the USDA Office found inspection agencies were failing to ensure that organic operations were producing organic products under a uniform regulatory requirement. Those involved in the USDA audit recognized that it really doesn’t take much to be certified organic.[*]
 
The problems start to arise when:[*]
 

1 A conflict of interest is created when certifying agency is paid directly by the farmers requesting the Organic label.
 

2 The accreditation of the certifying agencies is seldom re-evaluated.
 

3 Organic farmers are unwilling to maintain the paperwork to provide transparency of their operations.
 

4 The certifying agencies are inconsistent with the frequency of inspections, inspection standards and the punishment of violations. 


5 The National Organic Program does not maintain a systematic program for catching fraudulent operations with very few agencies testing for pesticides.

 
Now, I hope you are starting to get the gist of why the integrity of the organic label is slowly becoming less than the original standards it once stood for.
 
 
Bottom line The Organic label could be considered to be a victim of its own success. As the demand increases for organic foods, so does the interest from large corporations that will be able to influence the regulation and laws the label is composed of. If you can’t grow your own or buy from local farmers, then the best we got is the Organic label…just be aware that it ain’t what it used to be.


 
Contains Omega 3
 

First off, Omega-3 fatty acids come in three main types: EPA, DHA and ALA.
 
ALA does NOT have the proven benefit for the heart as EPA and DHA.[*]
 
Some foods are higher in these ALA, such as flax seeds.
 
Given that, eggs may be labeled as containing omega-3 if chickens are fed flax seed, but they should NOT be considered to have a heart health benefit because of their cholesterol and saturated fat content.[*]
 
Also, some products will add flax powder in their food simple to attach the omega-3 label on their product.[*]
 
Bottom line - If you want to increase you intake of Omega 3 fatty acids, stick to wild caught cold water fatty fish and seaweed.
 
 
 
 
Pasture-raised
 
Due to the number of variables involved in pasture-raised agricultural systems, the USDA has not developed a federal definition for pasture-raised products.[*]
 
Bottom line - In the US, this label is meaningless.
 
 
 
No Added Hormones
Also seen as ‘Raised without Hormones”, No Hormones Administered,
 

Federal regulations have never permitted hormones or steroids in poultry or pork. So, the problem with this label is that by using the term 'no added hormones' it suggests that any other products that do not use this term are adding hormones - this is not the case.[*][*]
 
However, the USDA does allow the use of a number of hormones on beef. Beef and that is labeled as “no hormones administered” is considered to be free from any added hormones over the lifetime of the animal and therefore does imply that the manufacturer has gone beyond USDA regulations for conventional meat production. [* 
 
Yet, it is important to note that the use of the term “hormone free” is considered “unapprovable” by USDA on any meat products.[*]
 
Bottom line - In the US, the merit of this label is trivial because it only applies to beef and in that case is considered ‘unapprovable’ .
 
 
 
Humanely Raised
 
Multiple labeling programs make claims that animals were treated humanely during the production cycle, but the verification of these claims varies widely. This label is not regulated under a single USDA definition.[*]
 
In the US, this label is meaningless (unless labeled Certified Humane® or Animal Welfare Approved).
 
The label Certified Humane® is completely different then the generic, all-encompassing Humanely Raised label.
 
The Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) 28-member Scientific Committee has reviewed all of the current research which resulted in standards for the Certified Humane® label. This certification conducts annual inspections by independent non-profit companies and required producers to meet all animal care standards in order to achieve certification (maybe the Organic label can take note on this one).[*]
 
It’s interesting to note that HFAC's Certified Humane® "Free Range" not only has a space requirement but also a prerequisite that hens must be outdoors for at least 6 hours per day (weather permitting).[*]
 
Bottom line – If you’re worried about animal rights, this label does nothing to make you sleep better at night. If you are interested in where to buy products that have the actual Certified Humane® label check this link out to search in your area.
 
 
 
Free Range
Also labeled Free Roaming
 

The USDA has defined "free range" or "free roaming" for poultry products only (this does NOT include eggs or beef).[*]
 
The USDA's (and industry standard) definition for "Free Range" is that birds must have "outdoor access" for 5 minutes. In some cases, this can mean access only through a "pop hole," with no full-body access to the outdoors and no minimum space requirement.[*][*]
 
These regulations do not specify the quality of outdoor access (ex. small patch of dirt or gravel) of the outside range. [*][*]
 
One thought to add to the ‘free range’ term is beak trimming which still normally occurs even though battery cages have been phased out. Beak trimming is most common in egg-laying strains of chickens. In some countries such as the United States, turkeys are routinely beak trimmed as well. (Beak trimming has been banned in Switzerland since 1992). The practice of beak trimming most often occurs at 1-day of age at the same time as the chick is being sexed and vaccinated.[*]
 
Bottom line – Remember, the label Free Range used on beef and eggs is unregulated and there is no standard definition of this term. In fact, the use of this label regarding poultry is a flat-out joke when you read what the term actually defines. Although you may find eggs or chicken meat claiming to be free range, I wouldn’t assume the bird was out pecking around in the sun outside old Farmer Brown’s barn. [*]
 
 
 
 
Raised without Antibiotics
 
The USDA has banned the use of the "antibiotic free" label on meat and poultry. 
 
Use of the term "antibiotic free" is considered "unapprovable" by USDA on any meat products. Yet the USDA still allows producers to label meat and poultry products with the claims "no antibiotics administered" or "raised without antibiotics."[*]
 
Virtually all intensively farmed animals receive low levels of antibiotics in their feed or water throughout their lives to get them to market weight. When animals are confined indoors by the thousands, antibiotics are used to suppress disease. Often times, animals are taken off the drugs before slaughter – as is often required by law for animals destined for human consumption.[*]
 
There is no organization that verifies this claim other than the company manufacturing or marketing the product. [*][*]
 
In 2008, Tyson Foods settled a class action consumer lawsuit for its false "Raised Without Antibiotics" claim. The company withdrew its modified label and agreed to $5 million in compensation (which isn’t much considering annual revenues of nearly $27 billion). [*]
 
Bottom line – This label is unapprovable and unregulated…which makes it pretty much worthless.
 
 
 
No Additives
 
I see this label a lot in combination with other labels.
 
Unfortunately, there is no official definition for the term ‘No Additives’ and it is not verified when used.[*]
 
Bottom line – worthless.

 
 
Made With
 
This label may claim that a food is “made with” whole grains, fruits, vegetables….it may even emphasize the presence of healthful ingredients through the use of pictures or banners.
 
True, the FDA requires companies to comply with specific regulations for claims about nutrients (such as fats, cholesterol, sodium, fiber)…however, the law does not cover claims about pictures of ingredients which may not even included in the product (such as whole wheat, fruits or veggies).[*]
 

For example: Tropical fruit flavored Gerber Graduates Fruit Juice Treats show pictures of fresh oranges and pineapple. But the main ingredients are corn syrup, sugar and white grape juice concentrate.
 
Another example: Betty Crocker’s Strawberry Splash Fruit Gushers don’t contain strawberries at all— just pear concentrate.
 
Bottom line – Read the ingredient list. If the ingredient even made it on list, look to see if it’s one of the first 3 ingredients in the product.
 
 
Good Source Of
 
This label ensures that the product contains between 10-19% of your daily requirement for a particular nutrient.[*  
 
Where this term can become quite misleading is in terms of fiber. This is because many products add “isolated” fiber.  On top of that, there is very little evidence that “isolated” fiber provides any of the disease-protective benefits that the real soluble and insoluble fibers do.[*][*][*]
 
If you see the words “inulin,” “polydextrose,” and “maltodextrin” listed in the ingredients, you are eating “isolated” fiber.[*]
 
Bottom line – Looking for a good source of anything: stay with whole foods.

 

Lightly-sweetened
Also seen as Low Sugar
 
The FDA has regulations concerning the use of “sugar free” and “no added sugars” but nothing governing the claims “low sugar” or “lightly sweetened”.[*]
 
Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats claim to be “lightly sweetened” but contain 12 grams of sugar per serving. 
 
Bottom line – useless.

2 comments:

  1. Great info! Thank you!!

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