What Do Those Food Labels Mean Anyway: An Examination Of Words Like ‘Non-GMO,’ ‘Organic, and ‘Natural’

‘Non-GMO, Organic and All-Natural:’ What On Earth Do Our Food Labels Mean Anyway?

There’s no two ways around it: we live in a deceitful age.

Blame politics, blame advertising, blame the internet–the truth is we can’t escape from a certain amount of flat-out bullshit in our lives. You could go so far as to say that if modern humans were fish, bullshit would be the medium we swim in.

And as more and more people become aware of how unhealthy our Western diet really is and attempt to make the switch to healthier choices, the food industry is playing catch-up, trying to jump on that lucrative healthy food train.

And the results are sometimes laughable, sometimes rage-inducing, sometimes puzzling.

Spotted recently: club soda proudly labeled “Gluten-free!”

Well…what, did you guys used to make your soda out of wheat?

Anyway, amusement aside, there is real danger lurking beneath the shiny, optimistic labels claiming to contain healthy food beneath. Here are a few examples of how the food industry may be fooling you with weasel words.

Non-GMO – As concerns continue to rise and the word spreads on the dangers of
eating foods grown under a strict regimen of treatment with cancer-causing glyphosate–and also what the rise of GMO crops may bring in terms of long-term consequences for the planet and for our long-term ability to raise food on our own–more and more people reach for the ‘Non-GMO’ label instinctively. But just because something is non-GMO doesn’t mean it is healthy. For instance, fruits, veggies and eggs labeled “non-GMO” are not necessarily free from pesticides, antibiotics, other chemicals, and a concern for animal welfare and sustainability. Every time someone buys a product so labeled that is unhealthy, a corporate lawyer gets his wings.

Organic – Speaking of, there are few things to know about how the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines ‘organic.’ Wait, you say: when I buy something that says ‘Certified Organic,’ complete with that awesomely official USDA logo, I can’t be sure it is really organic?

Here’s the requirements on being able to slap a “certified organic” label on your product: it must contain at least 95 percent organic–meaning that up to 5 percent of that food can be non-organic, sprayed with god knows what chemicals, made of god knows what products.

For “Made with Organic Ingredients” is even more obfuscatory: that label requires a mere 70 percent of the food so labeled be organic–so 30 percent of it can be medical waste for all you know.

And then there’s…

Natural, All-Natural, 100% Natural – How to put it gently: these words mean literally nothing in terms of labeling your food. There are no government restrictions on how or when to use this word and variations thereon. In 2008 foods labeled in some permutation of “Natural” generated over $22 billion in sales, up ten percent from the previous year. And it has only risen since. That should tell you all need to know about the word “Natural” as it relates to food.

The bottom line is this: How can you really know what you’re eating if labels mean nothing? You can thank your government slaves of Big Agriculture money for this mess.

It’s about time somebody cleaned it up.

Know Your Labels: The Important Difference Between Non-GMO and Organic


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