Food Labeling: The new snake oil.

image via Rodale

Hucksterism is alive and well.
The cure-all magic elixirs have moved to the grocery aisles, where food manufacturers are the modern-day version of snake oil salesmen. We’re not looking to cure rickets but we are still easy marks, shelling out too much cash for dubious claims.

The USDA does not permit poultry or hog farmers to use hormones; chicken and pork are always hormone-free. Good policy, but why are we paying a premium for products that tout it?

All natural
It has a nice ring to it; too bad it’s meaningless. Antibiotics are allowable ‘natural’ additives. Arsenic, used to promote growth and control disease, is also allowed, although to my mind it’s unnatural in anything but rat poison. ‘Natural’ chicken can also be injected with a watery broth that is so full of salt that a single serving can contain over 25% of the recommended daily allowance of sodium. You’re dinged twice on price—you pay the premium commanded by the ‘natural’ label, plus the cost of the pumped up water weight, which can be as much as 15% of the total weight.

Whole grain
Tostitos tortilla chips and chocolate fudge Pop-Tarts—these are whole grain foods? A smattering of grains and maybe some molasses to add a brown tint and voila– you have a reasonable facsimile of a healthy food. Slap on a label, maybe something like full of whole grain goodness, and there you go– credibility without any of that pesky dietary fiber. A product made from 85% refined flour and high fructose corn syrup can still display the whole grains label.

Zero trans fat
Are the fats being shuffled too quickly for the eyes to follow? Products like Gorton’s fish filets, Dreyer’s ice cream Drumsticks, and meatball-mozzarella Hot Pockets have eliminated trans fats, emblazoning their packaging with this heart-healthy boast. Don’t let the sleight-of-hand distract you from the excessive saturated fat levels, which are 3-4 times the FDA definition of high fat.

Zero servings of fruits and vegetables
The only cherries, oranges, or pineapple you’ll find in Gerber Graduates Juice Treats are pictured on the box. Not a trace of strawberry bursts out of Betty Crocker’s Strawberry Splash Fruit Gushers. You will find broccoli in Knorr’s chicken broccoli fettuccine noodles, but the dish actually contains more salt than green vegetable.

Do you know what you’re eating?
Misleading, confusing, and outright fraudulent claims. A shell game played with with salt, fats, additives, fruits, and vegetables. Don’t be an easy mark. Read labels. But don’t believe everything you read.

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg is gearing up for a crackdown on labeling. Read her open letter to the food industry.


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5 Responses to Food Labeling: The new snake oil.

  1. Monet says:

    This was super informative. I knew about the hormone-free claim. It is so frustrating that companies try to trick consumers! Thank you for sharing this with me. I hope you have a lovely week. I wish you and your family the happiest New Year!

  2. Janice says:

    I actually penned a series of references on the tax code, which was excellent preparation for parsing nutrition labeling.

  3. Reading food labels can be as complicated and time consuming as doing your own taxes. They are designed for the less informed and that is sad. Having a degree in nutrition helps but not much! Like a more simple tax code, we need a simple food label code! Great post.

  4. Pingback: Tweets that mention Misleading Food Labels | Gigabiting --

  5. HOO-RAY! This is me with a Standing Ovation!!!

    Well Done…made my day with this article.


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