Why Food Nutrition Labels Don't Tell the Whole Story

We have a right to know what's in our food — especially in a time where most people don't have viable alternatives to eating what’s sold on supermarket shelves. Nutrition labels offer some information, of course, and people have been lobbying for labels for genetically modified food. But what if food was also rated by worker safety, animal cruelty standards, or environmental destruction?

A few experts on food told NPR that they’d be all in favor of such things. Jonathan Foley of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota said that his number one preference would be a deforestation label, deforestation being one of the leading global environmental problems and a major factor in global warming. Maybe if we all had labels showing us that trees were cut down to grow our food, that trend might slow.

Tracie McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating said she’d be interested in knowing about workers’ wages. Her undercover investigation in the fields of California revealed most workers weren’t even paid minimum wage. Danielle Nierenberg, co-founder of Food Tank, a food think tank, also thinks info on worker conditions is important for consumers to have, as is info on how animals are raised and treated.

So could any of this info ever actually show up on food labels? Probably not anytime soon, given the amount of effort it would take to set up any sort of system, haggle over the details, establish oversight, and of course get past lobbyists from major food corporations. But still, it’s a worthwhile idea, one that hardly anyone is talking about.

What you put into your body matters. Anyone who debates that point is out of touch with themselves and, you know, science. But even more, the products you buy matter. You can object to deforestation all you want, but if you buy products made possible by the practice, you’re still tacitly supporting it. The same goes for workers’ rights and animal cruelty. These things happen, and unless you want to carry around a pocket guide and double check every purchase, you really have no idea if your trip to the grocery store is enabling it.

I would love it if every person educated themselves about all of their purchases, but as someone who tried that for a while and got exhausted and frustrated, it would be so much easier if there was a label. Even the mere existence of such labels might produce some change, as companies would be forced to really look at their practices.

Until then, we’ll just go on living in a world where most sugar isn’t even vegan because it’s processed with bone char. Delightful.

Image: ilovebutter/flickr

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