Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Claims put on food package labels- True, false and in between!

How truthful are the facts presented on the labels in packaged foods? Before criticizing the food manufacturers for being non-transparent in their label declarations, one must check the veracity of labels on products that are already on the market shelves. The tendency to boost up the sales is universal and no one can fault the industry if they promote their products honestly and truthfully. The problem arises when label declarations are fudged by vague statements and wholly inaccurate facts. In India the FSSAI, sitting in their cozy offices at Delhi seems to be concentrating more on licensing all and sundry including the "under the tree" food sellers though it is not clear what they are going to do with all the paper works involved in documentation associated with such mass scale "licensing". Indian market place is a thriving field for fraudsters, adultrators, cheats and "addressless" vendors to make a fast buck at the expense of the benign citizen. There are thousands of products with wrong labels, boosted up claims, distorted facts and unknown nature of contents. Many products are not even complete leaving out some of the vital information required to be printed to help the consumer. A recent report from the US indicates that mislabeling is not that widespread as in India though there is also a tendency to suppress some facts. Here is a take on that report.    

"Many packaged food items such as cereals, infant food, chips and more contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Some companies label their products; some do not. Still, some say their products are "natural," which can mislead customers into thinking that the food is free from GMOs. About 64 percent of Americans understand the "natural" label to mean "no GMOs." There is no evidence to prove that the consumption of food with GMOs causes illness, but many countries require food producers to label their products if these contain modified ingredients. The U.S. does not, however, require GMO products to be labeled this way. "Foods that are frozen, made from concentrate or homogenized are all required to be labeled. Why shouldn't products containing GMOs also be labeled?" says Jean Halloran, director of Food Policy Initiatives. Consumer Reports examined the number of food items that contain GMOs. The product testing organization also wanted to know if people relied on the packaging of certain products that suggest no GMOs. The group looked at 80 different packaged food items that contained soy or corn, which are the two most genetically modified crops in the U.S. The GMO measurement process involved examining at least two product samples, each from a separate lot. Consumer Reports then compared the test results with the packaging to confirm if food producers provide correct information. For a food product to meet the requirements of non-GMO, it should not have over 0.9 percent of genetically enhanced soy or corn. Following the European Union's standards, any food item with more than 0.9 percent of GMO should be labeled to confirm the product has GMOs. The tests found items that did not mention GMO in the packaging contained a substantial amount of ingredients modified genetically. Almost all food products labeled "natural" also contained a substantial amount of GMOs. However, products labeled "Non-GMO" or "No-GMO" met the required standards of non-GMO foods. "Until GMO labeling becomes mandatory, consumers who want to avoid GMOs should look for 'organic' or 'Non-GMO Project Verified' labels," says Urvashi Rangan, executive director of Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability. Rangan also believes that products that say they are "natural" mislead customers and should be excluded from packaging."

One of the major transgression in the US concerns the failure of the industry to declare the presence of GMO ingredients in packaged food products beyond the level prescribed by international agencies. But this is a controversial area which is still being debated though common sense tells that GMO food ingredients can never be called natural. While a substantial segment of the population definitely want to shun GMO products, they have been made helpless by the spinelessness of the food safety agency in that country to discipline its food industry!
There is an urgent need to overhaul the labeling system throughout the world to bring in some uniformity and facilitate global trade with no disputes regarding the product identity and permissible claims that can be printed on the label.


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