Don’t be Fooled By a Label

Food marketing is a multi-billion dollar business, and it is based on the premise and the prayer that you as a consumer are an idiot.

A recent study by the University of Illinois researched what food labels mattered most to consumers for beef, chicken, milk and eggs. The results for those of us involved in food marketing are not shocking:

The study determined the importance of seven specific on-farm practices in consumers’ purchasing decisions, ranked by what consumers found to be most important:

  • Animals were not administered growth hormones
  • GMO’s were not used in production
  • Animals were humanely raised
  • Animals were not administered antibiotics
  • Animals were in a free range or cage free environment
  • Animals were grass fed
  • Product is certified organic

The biggest surprise in this study was just how little the average consumer understands the choices they make when they spend money. Let’s break down some facts behind these claims.

1.) Animals were not administered growth hormones.

It is illegal to provide chickens and hogs with growth hormones. ILLEGAL. There is no added hormones in pork and chicken. None. This study found that products labelled ‘hormone free’ versus packages with no labelling sold for a premium. Why is this crazy-ass marketing nonsense? The products in the packages are THE SAME.

Take home lesson: Your chicken and pork has never been given a hormone.

Beef is a different story. Beef animals are give hormone implants. For a couple reasons: in beef heifers, it prevents them from coming into heat. Why? Horny cows hurt each other and are a liability for cowboys working them.

They are also used a growth promoting agent in both male and female beef animals, and one of the most economical vehicles for growth the industry used. They can be used in nursing calves, the feeder stage (teenage cows) and the feedlot. The hormones used are mostly naturally occurring estrodial, progesterone and testosterone.

These implanted hormones do not end up in your food. The average 3oz serving of implanted beef has 6 nanograms of estrogen compared to a non-implanted 3oz servings average of 5.8 nanograms.  The average serving of cabbage: 4100 nanograms of estrogen. The hormones from meat are not causing your kids to reach puberty faster. Neither is the cabbage for that matter.

What is causing your kids to reach puberty faster: a better plane of nutrition and exposure to sexual situations at younger ages. That’s farm animal 101.

2.) GMO’s were not used in production.

Well this is an interesting one because it is inherently so complex and hard to explain without boring you to death with science. GMO’s get a bad rap. To date of the thousands of studies across the globe, not one study has shown negative human health impacts from the use of GMO products.

GMO’s improve yields and efficiency in crop production, meaning they are the actual definition of sustainability= growing more food and fiber with less resources. GMO’s require less pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer.

Every animal in meat animal production is fed corn. Corn is almost totally a GMO crop because of a product called bT resistant corn. This is a type of corn that has been genetically modified to be resistant to certain pests that damage the corn crop. This product in turn requires less pesticide application.

Every meat animal you eat has most likely been fed bT resistant corn at some point in its life cycle. This is why there is not more ‘organic meat’. To be classified as organic they cannot have been fed GMO corn.

But who is policing this you ask? The understaffed USDA currently.

3..) Humanely raised.

This is an interesting one. Humanely raised is subject to interpretation. Did you know that most humane certification programs are run by people who sit on the board for HSUS or another animal rights advocacy panel that promotes a vegan lifestyle? Did you know that humanely raised certification programs don’t allow producers to treat sick animals because they are not allowed to use antibiotics? Is not treating sick animals in our care truly humane? There are ethical dilemmas surrounding many humane standards.

It is fashionable to have standards of animal husbandry set by committees who have never worked on a farm and have publically made statements calling for the end of animal agriculture.

It reeks of conflict of interest. Check your sources.

I am not saying production agriculture is getting it all right, and I actively champion change in some production methodologies which we will discuss at a later date.

The short story here is: labels don’t necessarily mean BETTER. You get to vote for the market place you want by how you spend your dollar. Currently the bulk of consumers are buying labels they don’t understand and spending more money on labels that don’t mean anything.

I am radically pro-change in the agricultural food marketing sphere. It is currently in-regulated, un-policed and full of fraud by creative types that play upon the sentimentality of the uneducated, albeit well meaning consumers.

I think it is important to be actively engaged in how your food is produced and where it comes from ad what is in it…but only to the point where as a consumer you are affecting the change you want to see in the market. I think we as consumers have to be wary of food labelling and of programs that promise humane animal handling Millenial generation, I am talking to you: Many of these programs are designed by people who have ulterior motives or no experience in production agriculture. The impacts many of these programs have on the animals in their care have no added benefit to the animal or actual have pretty startling negative consequences.

If you, like me, are a label reader. Make sure you know what the label means, who created it, and who profits from it. Follow the money….you’ll find the story.