Labels: Who Decides the Wording?

July 3rd, 2011

Having spent the past year in California, I just returned to the East coast to obtain medical care and re-experience life amidst the diversity and drive of my former neighbors, the inimitable population of New York State. Of course, these days are fraught with rapidly disappearing rights of access to such necessities as jobs, housing and medical care’, making this return visit one of awesome discovery as well as a trip down memory lane. However, a trip to a grocery store is the same in any locale.

Symptomatic of our troubles is the loss of plainly worded information amongst trusted sources of products from foods to drugs. A recent article in the New York Times, “What’s Inside the Bun?” by William Neuman informs us that the government has no requirement for actual disclosure by industry of a products’ contents. In this article, we learn that the nitrates and nitrites many attempt to avoid by purchasing ‘natural’ lunch meats or hot dogs are actually consuming those same, unhealthy preservatives. Because they come from ‘natural’ sources, rather than synthetic, such labels can be highly misleading.

The president of one company cited in the article (I happen to enjoy their natural/organic products), is quoted as saying the U.S. Department of Agriculture has rejected their suggestions as to appropriate labels for use instead of “No nitrates or nitrites added”. These products apparently contain similar concentrations of these chemicals found in more conventional brands. This is particularly disturbing to me as I chose that brand in order to avoid eating nitrates.

My question to company executive is this: Why don’t you put this information on the label yourself and inform your customers of the information they specifically need in making informed choices?

Consumer advocacy groups should consider going right to the industries themselves if labeling is insufficiently informative. We can vote with our purchasing dollars and buy products which offer full disclosure of their ingredients and inform us of any derivative chemicals we are ingesting along with the ‘natural’ ingredients we seek as health-conscious Americans. Just as the Environmental Working Group has published lists of ingredients present in personal care and household products according to their safety, consumer groups can do the same with ‘natural’ and ‘conventional’ foods for ease of decision making.

Cost is often the largest factor in making purchasing decisions when it comes to food. However, knowing the premium paid by those of us weighing future medical costs against the higher prices of natural and organic food products, we must be informed of whether or not these purchases are actually going to yield the expected benefits.

It ought to be up to us.

Categories: Letters

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