Rely on Real Food, Not Labels
Most of us believe that all ingredients will be listed on the label when we buy a food. After all, the USDA and the FDA are there to make sure our food is safe, and that we know what is in our food, right?
Wrong. Food labels do not contain many of the ingredients that have been added to the food. The federal agencies allow a host of chemical additives to be added to packaged foods, without labeling. As long as the amount of the ingredient is below a certain percentage, it is not required to be listed on the label. This has led the food and chemical industries to develop a number of chemicals that are so strong that even a tiny amount can have a dramatic effect on the food. Since the amount used is so small, the ingredient need not be labeled.
In addition, ingredients added to packaging are not labeled as an ingredient, since they are considered to be part of the packaging, not the food. But these ingredients are in direct contact with the food, and get into the food.
Many products labeled as “organic” may not actually be organic.
Rather than making our food safe and informing the public of ingredient content, the mission of the federal agencies seems to be to protect the profits of the large food industry at all costs. This is apparent if you look at what they actually do, rather than listening to what they say.
The only solution I have found is to buy as much of my food as I can from farmers and ranchers I know and trust. And to buy local whenever possible. I do not trust food labels, but I do trust real food, as raised by the farmers I know and trust.
What Is Not on the Label
The food industry has developed a number of preservatives, sweeteners, and flavor enhancers that are so powerful that even a tiny amount will have a huge effect on the food. None of these compounds occur in nature, and all of them have been developed in a lab. Many new ones are developed and added to food every year. Because they are so powerful, they can be added to food in amounts so small that they do not have to be labeled. Yet no one really knows what effect long term use of these substances will have on the human body. Do you want to be a guinea pig for the food and chemical industries? I do not. But you cannot rely on labels to protect you from being a guinea pig for these artificial, lab-made substances.
The ingredients in the packaging are not labeled, either. For example, many kinds of food packaging have nanites added. But you will not find nanites on the label. If you think nanites sound like something out of a science fiction novel, you are right. Currently, they are incredibly tiny particles that are used to kill bacteria in food. What will these tiny particles do when they get into the human body? Will they kill the beneficial bacteria we all need to digest food and be healthy? Will they enter our cells and damage them because they are so tiny and can penetrate cell walls? Will they interfere with the vital functions of organs like the heart, lungs and kidneys by penetrating them? All these concerns have been raised, but there are no clear answers, and no long-term testing. Once again, we are guinea pigs without even knowing it.
In addition to nanites, BPA and many other chemicals are added to food packaging. BPA and other chemicals have been shown to interfere with human hormones. But you will not find them on a label.
GMOs are not labeled, either. In Europe, the presence of GMOs must be placed on food labels. But not in the U.S. In fact, I have yet to see a single label that discloses the presence of GMOs. GMOs are plants that have been modified by biotechnology to have certain characteristics, usually a heightened tolerance to pesticides. They do not occur in nature and are designed in a laboratory. Most people do not want to ingest them. Yet almost all non-organic packaged foods contain GMOs. Almost all food animals are fed GMO crops as feed. If you eat a conventional diet, you are getting plenty of GMOs in your body.
Finally, the feed and chemicals that have been used to raise a food animal are not on the label. Factory beef, for example, is usually raised with artificial growth hormones, artificial steroids, non-therapeutic antibiotics, GMO corn, GMO soy, and can contain a number of other “feeds” that are approved by the government, including chicken manure, processed restaurant waste, candy bars, and many other ingredients that no ordinary person would ever think of feeding to cattle. But none of these substances is on the label.
But Can You Trust Organic?
You should be able to trust the organic label. It means that everything in the bottle or package is organic, without pesticides or chemical additives, right?
It should. But it doesn’t always. The label “organic” now means that only ninety-five percent of the ingredients must be organic, with the other five percent coming from an approved list of non-organic materials. If it says “100% organic,” then everything in the box or package is supposed to be organic. But is it?
Again, not always. A lot of organic food comes from foreign countries, particularly China. The safety of food from China has been a subject of controversy for years. Food safety outbreaks have happened in China so often that the government has actually shot people who were deemed responsible for tainting food. China has generally not allowed foreigners to inspect food plants in China, so most of the food that is certified organic is inspected by a Chinese company. Many people have raised concerns over whether organic food from China is actually organic, or contaminated with pesticides and chemicals. This issue became particularly identified with Whole Foods Market, the giant multi-billion-dollar grocery conglomerate. Whole Foods used to get most of its organic foods from China. After an ABC news story in 2008 that questioned whether foods from China were actually organic, a huge controversy broke out, with Whole Foods steadfastly insisting that its organic food from China was in fact organic, while critics claimed it was impossible to adequately verify whether food sold in China was actually organic. In 2010, Whole Foods announced that most of the organic fruits and vegetables sold under its 365 label would be purchased from countries other than China. However, it was unclear whether other foods sold under that label such as sauces, condiments, etc, had organic ingredients that were not from China.
The issue of whether foreign foods labeled “organic” actually are organic has risen in regards to foods from other foreign countries besides China. So what is true? I do not actually know. But, since avoiding pesticides and chemicals is very important to me, I do not buy organic food that does not come from the United States, or Canada, or the European Union. I am familiar enough with their certification programs to believe they are usually enforced, whereas I just do not know about the standards in the other foreign countries. I prefer not to take the risk. I also like the idea of supporting local farmers, and food from foreign countries is the opposite of local, especially when it is shipped thousands and thousands of miles from China.
Another problem with organic foods in the U.S. is the packaging. The packaging can contain various chemicals that can enter the food. For example, even organic tomatoes can have BPA in the lining of the cans they come in. For this reason, I only buy organic foods that come in glass jars, as I think they do not have chemicals added to the glass.
The Best Solution—Buy Local, Buy Trusted
Because of the many problems with labeling, along with the widespread use of chemicals and pesticides by the food industry, I have found that the best solution is to buy as much food as possible from local farmers and ranchers I trust. It is worth getting to know the people you buy food from, to understand their values, and to feel that they are raising the kind of food you want to eat. In this case, the use of organic farming techniques, often called the equivalent of organic, is much more important than certification. Organic certification can be very expensive, and some of the best farmers cannot afford it. There are many great farmers and ranchers out there, but there are some who have lower standards, and it is crucial to know your farmer. It takes some time and effort, but I have found it to be worth it, as the food my family eats is so important to me.
Do you still rely and trust on labels when you go shopping?
This article originally appeared on tendergrassfedmeat.com. It is re-posted here with permission from the author.
Photo Credit: Tomiko Peirano
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