Hidden truth: What food labels really mean

Hidden truth: What food labels really mean

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WILKES-BARRE, Penn. (WBRE/WYOU) — Food companies use cleverly crafted words and phrases to market their products in the hopes of swaying your buying decisions. But what do those labels really mean?

“Imagine this. You’re walking through the grocery store looking for container steaks to purchase. Reading the labels, you find steaks labeled as all-natural, organic and grass-fed. Which one do you choose?” asked Becca Lehman, a junior agriscience student at Central Columbia High School.

The choices vary, but do you know why? When choosing your food, pay attention to labels so you know what you’re putting in your body.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, “organic” products must be produced using agricultural production practices that foster resource cycling, promote ecological balance, maintain and improve soil and water quality, minimize the use of synthetic materials, and conserve biodiversity.

There are strict guidelines when it comes to labeling food as “organic,” so it may be worth shelling out a few extra bucks for them. But what about “all-natural” food labels?

“The FDA and [U.S. Department of Agriculture] aren’t inspecting those products to make sure. It’s kind of just the FDA is seeing the label and going, ‘OK, that’s a label we have.’ But it’s important that we know that those animals can still be given steroids, growth-promoting hormones or antibiotics. All-natural just means there’s no food coloring,” said Lehman.

In January, the national bioengineered food disclosure standard went into effect, meaning companies are now required to give a disclosure that lets you know if you’re eating any bioengineered food. Bioengineering is just one of the scientific advancements that made it possible for the less than 2% of Americans who are farmers to feed our rising population.

“We could not do what we do or be where we are without GE [genetically modified] crops and the engineering that we’ve done,” said Russell Redding, Secretary of Agriculture for Pennsylvania. “Applied practices that are beneficial to larger society, no impacts to the environment and keep up fed every day. That’s an attribute to the farms and the science.”

When you see food labeled “non-GMO,” it’s important to be aware of just what that means so that you don’t pay more money for what appears on a label.

The FDA does not prefer to use the common term non-G.M.O. as many companies do when describing food products.

GMO is short for “genetically modified organism,” and the agency states that “technically it is the plant that is genetically engineered rather than the food.” In its guidance on food labeling, it states that it uses the term “food derived from genetically engineered plants” instead.

“I think the marketplace is an opportunist, right. It is using terms and applying terms where the product itself can’t be engineered. There are only seven major crops in the country that actually have GE [genetic engineering] occurring to them,” said Redding.

Such crops include but are not limited to soybeans, corn, sugar beets, canola, cotton and some apple varieties.

“It’s not everything you see in the marketplace,” Redding added. “I think that truth in advertising and how we present things is critical.”

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