I walked down the aisle of a supermarket yesterday and was very impressed about how food producers have responded to consumers and their advocates. Although many legislators have tried to introduced bills to stop the use of antibiotics, hormones, and other potentially harmful ingredients in animal husbandry, they failed. The lobbyists who fought the regulations have been too effective. Protests against the cruel restraint of animals in small spaces seemed futile.
My cursory look at a supermarket shelves, however, told me there has indeed been a response to unsafe practices. Consumer advocates and informed shoppers evidently have now encouraged many food producers to change their care of animals and increase offerings of healthier food for humans. Among the labels I read on cans and packages:
:FREE RANGE CHICKEN RAISED WITHOUT HORMONES
- GRASS FED CATTLE WITHOUT HORMONES AND ANTIBIOTICS
- GLUTEN FREE PRODUCTS
- LOW CARBOHYDRATE
- NO SUGAR ADDED
- LOW SALT
- LOW CALORIE
- UNBLEACHED FLOUR
- SUGAR FREE ICE CREAM, CANNED FRUIT ETC.
- NO ARTIFICIAL COLORING
The list goes on but I noticed the above labels on my quick trip through the store.
I smiled because when I wrote the first editions of a Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives and A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients (both first published by Crown in 1978), I was told by my colleagues and some editors “no one stops to read the listings of ingredients on packages”.
The dictionaries are now in their 7th edition and thanks to the efforts of consumer organizations (see below) and their publications, informed consumers now have power in their pockets. They are more likely to buy certain products when the labels read, for example:
GLUTEN-FREE. Gluten is a mixture of proteins from wheat, rye, barley and all foods made with these grains. Gluten has been reported to cause problems in those who have celiac disease, (an autoimmune condition), gluten intolerance (digestive problems) or dermatitis herpetiformis (a blistering skin condition).
GRASS FED. Cattle which graze in pastures reportedly have less fat than those which are grain fed. Grain feed may also contain suspect additives. Grain feeding, however, is cheaper and faster to make cattle gain weight.
FREE RANGE CHICKENS Chickens are kept in cages which restrict their movements.Free range chickens can wander about and eat natural food.
RAISED WITHOUT HORMONES. Hormones, powerful substances from endocrine glands, are still being used to speed the growth of chickens, turkeys and cattle. Eating the meat of hormone-dosed animals is believed to affect the delicate balance of human hormones.
LOW CARBOHYDRATE. Starches and Sugars that affect metabolism and put on weight for people. Diabetics must restrict carbohydrate intake in their diets because it increases potentially dangerously high blood sugar. In fact, High amounts of starches and sugars are suspected to be a cause of the current Diabetic 2 epidemic in Western countries.
LOW CALORIE is usually 40 calories per serving. The US government is working on making food producers tell the truth on the labels about the amount of sugar in a product. Producers are not supposed to claim a small amount of sugar or starch in a portion when the portion, itself, is not realistic. Who puts a ½ teaspoon of sugar-ladened dressing on a salad? Also, sugar by any other name such as dextrose, sucrose, levulose or fructose is still sugar.
UNBLEACHED FLOUR. Bleached flour has been made chemically whiter in appearance than unbleached flour. Oxidizing compounds such as chlorine dioxide and benzoyl peroxide are used.
LOW SODIUM. Salt is about 140 or fewer mg per serving. Like sugar, the amount of salt in a product may be misleading if it refers to ¼ or 1 teaspoon per serving when there are 7 or more serving in a container.
NON-GMO. Signifies a Genetically Modified Organism.There are currently no GMO labeling laws. The idea behind the Non-GMO labels I observed in the supermarket is that some consumers are fearful of possible hidden side-effects from genetically modified crops and animals.
The following are among the many consumer groups whose efforts helped bring about the changes I saw on the supermarket labels. Here are just a few:
EWG (The Environmental Working Group) is an American environmental organization that specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals, agricultural subsidies, public lands, and corporate accountability California’s proposed standard of 10 parts per billion, 24 million Californians would be exposed to potentially dangerous levels of hexavalent chromium, a suspected carcinogen, in drinking water. EWG submitted extensive research to the state, in conjunction with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Clean Water Action and others. EWG has a team of scientists, policy experts, lawyers, communication experts and programmers. Through reports, online databases, mobile apps and communications campaigns, EWG is educating and empowering consumers to make safer and more informed decisions about the products they buy and the companies they support.
Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI): This organization has been providing advice and advocacy toward a healthier food system since its founding in 1971.Publishes Nutrition Action Healthletter and NutritionAction.com Address:1875 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20009; 202-332-9110; 202-265-4954 (fax); Web: http://www.cspinet.org.
Consumer Federation of America (CFA): Composed of more than 260 organizations, CFA is a consumer advocacy and education organization. CFA focuses much of its advocacy in the areas of financial service, utilities, product safety, transportation, health care, and food safety. 1620 I St. NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20006; 202-387-6121; Web: www.consumerfed.org.
Consumers Union (CU): Motto:” Unleashing the world-changing power of consumers”. Formed as an independent, nonprofit organization in 1936, Consumer Reports serves consumers through product testing and ratings, research, journalism, public education, and advocacy. They stand behind the principle that consumer products and services must be safe, effective, reliable, and fairly priced. They insist that manufacturers, retailers, government agencies, and others be clear and honest. They push companies to quickly address and remedy issues with their products and services. 101 Truman Ave., Yonkers, NY 10703-1057; 914-378-2000; Web: www.consumersunion.org. Publisher of Consumer Reports.
Keep Antibiotics Working is a coalition of health, consumer, agricultural, environmental, humane and other advocacy groups dedicated to eliminating a major cause of antibiotic resistance: the inappropriate use of antibiotics in food animals. www.keepantibioticsworking.com.