Be Wary of Ambiguous Product Labeling

While it may be illegal in some places to blatantly lie in your product labeling and/or marketing materials, it is *NOT* illegal everywhere. Moreover, the trend seems to be using ambiguous or suggestive wording as a passive aggressive mechanism of weaseling out of the letter of the law. Take, for example, the use of the term “organic” in produce labeling and marketing.

Until the introduction of the nationally recognized USDA Organic label, any produce retailer could add a sticker to any banana, claiming said banana was grown organically. Since there was no official definition of what “organic” meant, beyond the classical chemical definition of carbon-based life, there was a free-for-all on labeling and a subsequent marketing craze about “organic” produce.

Once the USDA stepped in and defined the farming practices that must be followed in order to be allowed (legally) to label food as “USDA Organic,” this practice fell out of favor. Those who were doing it simply to manipulate customer perception quickly re-branded their products using words like “humane” and “sustainable” – words that are not nationally regulated – as alternative labels, intended to convey the same thing as the “USDA Organic” labels that are controlled by a federal regulatory commission.

I see this as preying on the weak. Instead of taking the moral high road and promoting a product on its inherent merit – a practice that has the same effect on the idiots as it has on the geniuses – many vendors appear to take the other road, choosing to manipulate their potential customers. By using terms that are not regulated, they avoid the accountability of backing up a claim, while continuing to take advantage of the implied value conveyed by their advertising.

Thus, I am wary of any claim a vendor makes that their food product was “humanely” or “sustainably” harvested. And you should be wary, too. For all you know, you’re eating dolphin labeled as tilapia. Ethical issues aside, this is a public health concern, since dolphin meat contains substantially higher concentrations of mercury than tilapia, or any other fish you might find at the market.

In the end, the best way to know what you’re buying is to know your manufacturer. With social networking and the almighty Google, you can quickly and easily educate yourself on the day-to-day operational practices of your favorite vendor. So, if you care about the health and well-being of your family, do your homework before you buy from an unfamiliar vendor. If you don’t check up on them, you might as well give them a blank check to feed you whatever is cheapest to produce and distribute. That’s a slippery slope that inevitably ends in Soylent Green on your dinner table.

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