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The Importance of Accurate Food Labels

October 8, 2018
Food labels are a hot topic right now. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working on a new version of the Nutrition Facts Label.  There is much discussion about the definition (and use) of the word "natural" on food labels. More and more companies are choosing to put third party certification labels on their product.  And of course, there have been many stories written by mainstream mediagovernment sources, and on blogs and websites about how to read food labels.

But the question remains - what's important, and why are those things important? From labeling soy or almond milk as milk (or not) or labeling plant-based or cell-cultured meat as meat (or not), facts matter, and knowing what these things mean is important. It's not so much how to read a label as it is making sure that what's on a label is accurate, relevant, and helpful to consumers.

In a new guest column in The Hill, a newspaper covering Washington, D.C. political issues, GMO Answers Expert Kent Bradford asks these important questions, and explain why the answers to these questions are so important.
For example, it is not legal to label plant products as being “cholesterol free,” because plants don’t produce cholesterol. All plant products are cholesterol free, so it is misleading to label some of them that way, as it implies that other plant products not labeled as cholesterol free might contain the compound. At a minimum, advertising a plant product as being cholesterol free implies that some plant products do contain cholesterol, which is false.

At the forefront of this debate is the issue of labeling GMOs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be finalizing rules about a new disclosure law for GMOs, or bioengineered foods, as they are called in the law. Bradford raises the important questions of what effect will this have on consumers, on food companies, and on those who have built their brand on telling people that GMOs are unsafe. He raises the question, once GMOs are labeled, what will be the point of the Non-GMO Project? He notes:
However, this project has gotten out of control, as nearly 50,000 products now bear the Non-GMO Project label, including kitty litter, salt, and other products that are not even alive. Clearly, table salt is not an “organism,” so labeling it as a potential GMO is false and misleading.

If this sounds like a violation of FDA’s consumer protection rules, you are right.

A new petition from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) points this out as well. Their petition is calling on the FDA commissioner to issue a regulation prohibiting the use of the term “Non-GMO” on consumer foods and goods and requiring distributors to omit any “Non-GMO” term or claims on their labeling. Which brings us back to the concept of what is helpful and accurate (and not misleading) information for consumers.

What will be the outcome be of all of these developments? It remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure - the discussion about GMOs is not over, and GMO Answers will continue to answer people's questions about them.