What’s in a label?

What’s in a Label?
May 2, 2012

When food shopping, how do you know what you’re buying? You may be surprised at the misleading information on labels.
For example, The New York Times recently reported a dispute  between Fresh Del Monte and Del Monte Foods—two companies created out of  what was a single Del Monte in 1989. Fresh Del Monte is supposed to  sell “fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and fresh produce” while Del Monte  Foods markets canned and preserved fruits, vegetables and produce. That  seems clear, right? But Fresh DM is suing DM Food because it is selling  processed fruit and fruit products in plastic tubs on refrigerated  shelves of grocery and convenience store produce sections.
Maybe that’s not fresh produce, huh?
Consumers must be savvy to what’s presented to them and not rely on  product positioning in the supermarket or even the labels, which, in  this case, carry
such appealing names as Fruit Naturals and SunFresh.
Labels on processed foods, or food “products,” tell very little. For  example, there is a nationwide movement to label foods containing GMO  ingredients, which are banned in U.S. organic foods and most of the  world.
If you want fresh produce, don’t buy it packaged. Then, look at the  label affixed to it. All produce (including fruit, veggies, nuts and  herbs) will have
either a four or five digit number, part of the PLU, or  Price Look Up Codes, established in 1949. Four digits means it’s  conventionally grown with
chemicals. If that number has a 9 in front  (making it five digits long), it’s certified organic; similarly if it  starts with an 8, it’s GMO. Every produce
variety has a code (see  plucodes.com for info).
Some labels, such as Fair Trade, are reliable because  independent  organizations stand behind them to ensure the label is accurate. Some  are not.
For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture only regulates  Free Range labeling for poultry (not other meat) and only requires that  the birds have
“access” to the outdoors, which could mean almost  anything.
The Earthwatch Institute, an international nonprofit organization  dedicated to scientific research for the good of the planet, has a list  of labels it has
rated for reliability at http://www.bit.ly/uKE4pP.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

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