Food labeling is constantly being reviewed due to the ever-growing list of effects that additives and processing are having on health. Scientists are discovering that the food we eat, especially the western diet, is responsible for a myriad of conditions, illnesses and diseases. The need for everyone to be aware of what they are consuming makes it very important to understand labeling. It can get confusing, especially when labels claim foods are organic, natural or non-GMO.
The Organic Foods Production Act came into effect in 1990. Chemicals, synthetics, pesticides and herbicides that have been used in production are now prohibited in organic farming. Sometimes it takes years for that to happen. Farmers must raise the quality of soil and water, reduce pollution, assure healthy and safe habitats for livestock allowing natural behavior and use sustainable methods. No antibiotics, growth hormones or genetic engineering can be used to get larger products or greater yields. When approved, a USDA Organic Seal appears on the front of the packaging or directly on the item. The strict guidelines confirm that those vegetables, grains, fruits, meat and dairy products are organic or certified organic.
Genetic Engineering or Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
In the restrictions for organic labeling, it specifies no use of genetic engineering. This means they take one gene from one plant and insert it into another and pick the one that has the desired results to breed or grow. There is so much controversy over this process with both good and bad results. Modifying foods started around 1990, as reported by the FDA, and the figures show that more than 90 percent of soy and about 80 percent of corn in the U.S. are genetically engineered. A law was passed in 2016 to require some type of symbol to appear on packaging but it will be over more than two years before the rules are laid out.
Studies of GMO Products
It isn’t clear what the effects for future generations might be or what exactly they do to present day health. Some studies are showing major health problems in animals tested, including tumors, that have fed on GMO-produced food. No meats in the food supply are genetically engineered at present but salmon is pending. Animal feed, however, is mostly GMO. This makes things even more confusing, but the FDA states that GMOs are as safe as conventional food and there is no concrete proof otherwise. Labeling properly gives everyone the opportunity to choose whether they want to ingest these altered genes or not. Australia, most European countries and China do label GMO foods. If the choice is to avoid them, don’t buy any pre-packaged foods. Eat fresh, unprocessed foods with the labeling USDA organic or certified organic. The non-GMO icon appearing on packages is strictly at the discretion of the supplier offering the guarantee that it is unaltered. As of yet, it isn’t checked by the government.
The consumer might think these “natural” products are healthier but there are no government guidelines as to what natural actually means. The FDA says that as long as artificial substances aren’t used, it can be called natural. Natural flavors on meat products can include spices, essential oils, oleoresins or spice extracts and don’t have to be listed separately. In essence, any product marked natural, 100% natural, naturally produced or all natural means very little.
Purchasing and consuming whole foods as much as possible leads to less confusion about the meaning of the label. Contact the producer for more information if you’re ever unsure of what a label means or ask your local grocery store associates.