I’m an avid food label reader. When I’m shopping at the grocery store, I stop to look at the nutrition facts before I buy a food that’s new to me, and I check out the produce labels to see where the blueberries or the kiwis were grown.
Yet I’ve also noticed questionable labels popping up on food packaging that leave me feeling more confused than informed.
For example, my favorite brand of popcorn is labeled non-GMO, even though I know that there is no such thing as genetically modified popcorn. Same with the canned pineapple that’s also labeled non-GMO. Again, there’s no such thing as GMO pineapples.
You might be surprised to learn that there are only eight crops grown in the United States that are GMOs (https://gmoanswers.com/ask/what-gmo). That means many of the non-GMO labels you see in the grocery store, with the exception of processed foods made from corn or soy ingredients, have never been a GMO food.
In reality, GMO labeling isn’t a nutrition, health or food safety issue. Leading scientists and world health organizations agree that GMO foods are safe to eat (http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2015/01/29/pewaaas-study-scientific-consensus-on-gmo-safety-stronger-than-for-global-warming/).
So the non-GMO labels I see in the grocery store aren’t about safety. They’re about marketing. It’s another way for food companies to try to capture your attention and separate their product from the competitors on the shelves.
Food marketers have a history of taking advantage of consumer confusion. “Multi-grain” doesn’t necessarily mean that the bread is a good source of whole grains; almond milk is mostly water (http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Regulation/Almond-milk-only-contains-2-almonds-claims-lawsuit-v-Blue-Diamond).
Unfortunately, many people fall for misleading food labels. Heck, even I’m guilty of this myself (https://iowafarmbureau.wordpress.com/?s=food+label).
That may be why, in a recent survey, 80 percent of consumers say they believe foods containing DNA should be labeled (http://jaysonlusk.com/blog/2015/1/15/food-demand-survey-foods-january-2015). Never mind that nearly all foods contain DNA because they come from living organisms.
I get that we all want to know more about where our food comes from. But don’t overlook the most important info on food packaging –- the nutrition facts.
And a quick tip: Use your smartphone to scan the QR codes you may see on produce stickers or food packages. I promise, you will be surprised what you’ll learn about how those blueberries were grown. (And no, blueberries aren’t GMOs.)
By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is senior features writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.