How do we fix this?From the CAST authors
There are recommendations that experts, researchers, and even marketers prescribe. You can read a few of them in the short handout covering highlights from our food labels paper, but here is the main takeaway:
Food labels should be clear communication points based on sound science that allow consumers to make the best decisions available. Food labels should not condemn certain foods based on misinformation (e.g., GMO v. organic foods). If a product can cause human harm, the authors suggest it should be mandatory. Any room for misinterpretation or misleading information should be minimized by providing a clear consensus statement backed by scientific evidence on the package. When that can’t be done, then the label shouldn’t be used.
We, the consumers, have a right to know what is in the products we are buying. We also have a right to choose the products that match our desires and values. In order for us to make the best choice, we need labels with clear messages that are based on strong scientific evidence.
Food shouldn’t be ruled out because it isn’t marketed as “clean” (What does that even mean? Any food that has been altered for packaging is processed.). And other food shouldn’t be marketed as healthy or “better for you” because it is made a certain way (organic Doritos are still junk food).
We need clear communication. We need to be able to understand what the package is truly saying about the food without an agenda. But that will be hard to work considering we are a society driven by consumer demands. There is give and take--we won’t be able to completely eradicate the problem of mislabeling, but we can get closer than we already are.
What originally sparked my interest in writing this "Label-Talk" series was reading what agri-bloggers have recently shared:
- Amanda Zaluckyj shared a survey showing respondents (i.e., consumers) care about the behavior of the companies they buy from, as well as which food labels matter most to them (see the chart). Amanda then unveiled the hypocrisy behind companies claiming they have good ethics. Her message: Companies need to be trustworthy, which starts by being consistent with labeling and not “using magical language that consumers feel good about.”
- Wanda Patsche wrote an open letter to one of the Midwest’s largest food retailers asking them to make it their responsibility to provide clear labels on their branded products, and to fight misinformation about food processing on their social media content.
- Michelle Miller has been a long-time advocate of clear, de-cluttered labels on food packages. Her recent trip to Australia made her notice a stark difference between U.S. food labeling practices versus those in Australia. She’s noted in the past her frustrations with labels by stating they are “just plain wrong”--they don’t tell the consumer the truth and they are lying about agriculture. In the end, misleading labels hurt agricultural and science education.
|Image form Pixabay/Pexels|
Sorry, I made you read all that just to tell you this:
There isn't a straight answer to fixing the misuse of food labels, there are just too many facets, but we can improve their use by focusing on strategies that remove misleading labels, reduce the misuse of labels, and provide clear, concrete messages backed by strong scientific evidence.
I believe it is important to mention how difficult it is to cover large, hot-button topics like food labeling. This blog series is a shallow representation of the depth of research, law, policies, regulations, etc. on the subject--there is just so much information and so many questions that can arise from looking for answers.
But we have some great resources to help you get started.
If you have questions or comments from this three-part series or about our papers, please share them with us in the comments or on social (@CASTagScience). We’d love to hear from you.
CAST also provides publications filled with credible, peer-reviewed research to create recommendations, list implications and precautions, and often provide case studies. These authors and reviewers are some of the top scientists and experts in their fields. We really care about providing credible, balanced information to nonscientists who are interested in agriculture, animal, plant, and food science.
Finally, if you have an idea for a publication based off a concern or question you have, drop us a line.
By Kimberly Nelson