“Hot” Food Controversies That Labels Do Not Disclose
by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD
- Val-E-Vents, Sept. 2010
- Santa Monica Daily Press, Oct. 26, 2009, as Food Labels Don’t Disclose Everything to Consumers.
- Fullerton Observer, Mid Oct. 2009, page 10.
- Southern Sierran, Sept. 2009, as Caveat Shopper: You Can’t Always Trust Those Food Labels.
As the food supply is increasingly altered by controversial practices like liberal use of antibiotics, genetic engineering and irradiation, food labels take on greater significance as shoppers’ only link to how products are produced. Depending on what issues matters most to consumers, what labels do not say can be more meaningful than what they do.
To get a handle on contentious food processing techniques that food labels don’t disclose, it’s helpful first to understand what is mandated. Oversight is split between the USDA, which enforces labeling on meat, poultry and some egg products, and the FDA, which covers most other foods.
Most foods sold in grocery stores are required to sport an “information panel” that lists:
- the ingredients
- Nutrition Facts detailing the calories, fats, protein and other nutrients
- the manufacturer, packer or distributor.
Major Food Allergens (e.g. peanuts), relevant inspections (like USDA) and special handling instructions (such as “Keep Refrigerated”) must also be declared.
However, providing Nutrition Facts on raw foods, like fruits and vegetables, seafood, meat and poultry, is only voluntary but is often posted anyway on the display case.
Fish labels must also specify whether it is wild-caught or farm-raised and, for the latter, if colorant was added to the feed to turn their naturally gray flesh pink. In California, a previous requirement that canned tuna carry a warning label about the potential dangers from mercury was struck down in the State Superior Court in 2006.
Groundbreaking legislation, which would have made California the first state to prohibit feeding antibiotics to healthy livestock meant for human consumption, was voted down on June 3 (SB 416, Florez). This practice is employed routinely at large-scale industrial cattle, hog and poultry operations to hasten growth and prevent the spread of disease.