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.