Our mission at Peel Back the Label is to highlight the food companies using misleading labels to make their brands seem superior to the competition. In reality, these claims almost always apply to all similar products in the store. These companies prey on consumer misinformation about what is really in our food. In order to combat this misinformation, we’ve researched some of the most commonly misused labels and clarified them for you here.
A Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is any living material that has had its genetic material altered using genetic engineering. There are two things to remember about this issue: First, GMO plants have been repeatedly demonstrated to be safe to eat; and second, the truth is there are few genetically modified foods on the market today beyond a limited number of crops. However, many companies have chosen to label their products “GMO-free,” despite there being no genetically modified alternative available.
Here are the only genetically modified foods being produced today:
- Sugar Beets
- Arctic Apples
- Pink Pineapple
- Innate Potato*
- Aqua Bounty Salmon*
*Developed but not available to consumers.
For any other product, labeling it as “Non-GMO” or “GMO-Free” is just a marketing ploy, suggesting a difference that doesn’t exist.
You can learn more about what genetic modifications were made to each of the above examples here.
NO HORMONES ADDED
We continue to see poultry manufacturers labeling their chicken products with “no added hormones or steroids.” However, if you look closely and do your research, you’ll find that all poultry sold in the United States is free of “added hormones”, because that practice is not allowed by theUSDA. That’s why you’ll notice, in tiny font, on any poultry product that claims to have no added hormones, the clarification “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.” Note: the same goes for pork products as well.
The FDA has no set guidelines for use of the word ‘Natural’ on food products. With no enforceable definition, food companies have taken advantage of the connotation of the term, slapping ‘Natural’ on a wide range of products, no matter their ingredients or how they were made. ‘Natural’ on the label gives you no real indication of the quality or origin of the ingredients of the product.
For some, gluten can range from a minor inconvenience to a serious allergen. Having information about whether it is present in the food you buy can be important, particularly in products that usually do contain gluten. However, in recent years, food companies have taken advantage of consumers’ increased wariness of gluten, prominently labeling foods that would never contain gluten in the first place, “Gluten-Free!”
A food item only needs to have 50% fewer calories from fat or 1/3 less calories overall compared to the regular version of the product in order to use the term “Light” on its label. Despite common perception, this does not mean the food is low in calories or fat, or that the product is even healthy for you.
NO SUGAR ADDED
Remember, just because a food label claims, “No Sugar Added” on its label does not mean it doesn’t contain sugar. Often, food companies will use this label to make their product seem healthier, and even potentially sugar-free, when in reality that is not the case.