The Food Labeling Scheme

By Asha Brogan

When you go to buy eggs how do you decide which to purchase? The organic or non-GMO options? The cheapest option?

I was listening to an NPR story a while back how many Americans will go between an option they view as “healthier”, something that says cage free and non-GMO, but still on the cheaper side, i.e. not organic. (http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/02/28/283460420/why-the-non-gmo-label-is-organic-s-frenemy) The story went on to explain how this is all a labeling scheme and cage free and non-GMO really don’t mean “healthier eggs”. It simply means the eggs, or any other food, isn’t genetically modified. Non-GMO food DOES NOT mean that the food is pesticide free, that is hasn’t been fertilized with potentially harmless fertilizers, or treated with chemicals. Organic food is free from all these things, making it more difficult to grow, hence the high price point. Yet… In grocery stores these items are marketed right next to each other, as the healthier alternate food items.

I was reminded of this story in class Tuesday, discussing how the food industry has become this massive market of playing into consumer’s mental setup of wanting to be healthy. Nearly all grocery store items are marketed with a healthy option in some way, but thats just the issue… marketing. Cage free chickens don’t mean happy free-range chickens. Non-GMO is not a synonym for organic. Its all marketing. Parrott talks about this strategy of marketing in her book Talking About Health. “Neutriceuticals are food extracts for which a ‘drug-like’ benefit is claimed” (Parrott P. 104). By using labeling, companies and stores will do everything they can to convince consumers to buy goods, even if this includes tricking them just a little.

Another article, this time by the Wall Street Journal, said nearly the same as NPR, and discussed the battle companies are now in to ‘Advertise each other out’. This article stated the non-GMO is the clear winner of the consumer’s heart, the products are cheaper, but still seem to be equal to organic, partially because the standards for labeling a non-GMO certified project are simpler. There can be more options at a cheaper price, but the way the packing reads… the products are just as healthy as organic. The article included a wonderful graph showing the quickly changing results in popularity between organic and non-GMO options. http://www.wsj.com/articles/organic-vs-non-gmo-labels-whos-winning-1449619118

From a personal standpoint, I am a college student. I will always go for the cheap option, but I do like to care for my health, and find that taking the time to research what labels actually mean tends to pay off in the long run. I am also very glad for people who are willing to do that research for me and keep an eye out!

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One thought on “The Food Labeling Scheme

  1. This non-GMO craze is probably one of the more frustrating health kicks our society has been on. (I want to get my Master’s in genetics, so I may be a bit biased, however).

    We have been ‘genetically modifying’ our food ever since we put down the spears and picked up farm-style livelihoods. By choosing the plant or animal with the better features (better taste, faster growth, larger offspring, etc) and breeding them into the next generation we select the genes we want and cycle out the genes we don’t. It’s how we got animal species such as dogs and cats, learned how to grow large ears of corn, and how we managed to grow enough food to see population sizes soar.

    Now our technology has advanced enough that we can insert genes that we want in one or more generation, instead of hundreds. There are even bacteria that insert desired genes into plants to ‘trick’ them into producing more glucose that the bacteria can subsist off of. It’s completely natural, but because it modifies genes, people think that its harmful.

    Even with the decades of research into GMO’s, there has been no evidence of a GMO with aversive side effects. Our population is only going to get larger, and one of the best ways to feed everyone is to engineer our crops into producing larger, better tasting, hardier harvests. But with the PR backlash surrounding GMO’s, the research may be hampered and we won’t have the technology needed until it’s far too late.

    -Jennifer Brees

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