The Mendacity of Processed Food Labeling

Several years ago I read What to Eat by Marion Nestle, in which she spells out in clear, unambiguous terms that food labeling in the US is, for the most part, completely unregulated. Food processors are free to label their food with almost any  kind of lie they want regarding its origin, healthfulness, disease-fighting capabilities, and weight-loss possibilities.

I’ve been very happy to note that lately some of that loose labeling language has been coming back to bite them.

First there was the story about POM, shady purveyors of pomegranate  juice – recently slammed with a cease-and-desist order. The bottom line there is that they can still make all the outrageous health claims they like, despite a complete lack of scientific evidence, however what they can’t do is list specific illnesses it will cure. That’s not exactly limiting, but it’s a step in the right direction.

And just this morning I see a story about several lawsuits that have been filed against products ranging from orange juice to to ice cream.

Processed food is not natural, it’s probably not good for you, and most of the claims you see on labels are lies and fabrications. Food manufacturers can make up anything they want and put it on the label in a big red balloon surrounded by exclamation points, without any scientific basis whatsoever. The only label claim (other than nutrition information) that is regulated and enforced with any kind of integrity is USDA Organic labeling, and that label makes NO claims about healthfulness at all, the only thing it vouches for is the growing conditions of the produce. And note this paragraph in the labeling information from the USDA: There are no restrictions on use of other truthful labeling claims such as “no drugs or growth hormones used,” “free range,” or “sustainably harvested.”

This means that any food manufacturer can make those claims – nobody is checking or enforcing whether they are true or not.

The bottom line is that the only way you can be sure the ingredients in your food are natural or organic is to make the food yourself. Eating manufactured, industrially processed food can be convenient as a stop-gap or emergency measure occasionally, but as a regular diet it may be dangerous. At the very least it’s deceptive.


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