If you have any idea what is really behind the packaging labels you read at the grocery store, you might not be so willing to shell out for what is generously termed “food”. It’s not just the nutrition label you need to be wary of, it’s the “science” behind the claims they make about nutrition and/or health value. (Wait for the bit on Mini Wheats.)
In this very funny bit, comedian and commentator John Oliver, makes us laugh and maybe widen our eyes a little in horror, at what’s really in the “food” aisles of your local grocery mart. Video here.
It takes a degree in food sciences to understand what’s really in the packaged food that crowds supermarket shelves. It’s one thing to know that sugar masquerades as anything ending in -ose, as well as more healthy sounding things like molasses and evaporated cane juice.
It’s quite another thing to understand what the nutritional information actually means and to effectively compare it between products.
I’m a big fan of eating whole foods which neatly avoids the need to read labels, but in real life it’s not always possible. When it’s not, I want to make the better choice and lay off on the guilt. A few ways to make label reading easier:
- Avoid products with unpronounceable words in the ingredients list — those things are not food
- Check the order of the ingredients on the label — the earlier on the list, the more of it in the box
- Be on the lookout for sodium and fat. You don’t want too much of either and processed varieties are not typically good quality
Another even easier way to read labels is to download the Cereal Scan application for iPhone and scan labels as you shop. An easy-to-read display gives you a green, yellow or red light on the product and offers recommendations on better alternatives. It also includes easy-to-understand headlines that reveal the truth behind the labels.
Brought to you by Fooducate, the application was created by dietitians and concerned parents who wanted better information so they could make more informed food choices for their families.
I’m sitting here stunned upon reading in this week’s WestEnder that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has targeted a local micro-retailer and seized $20,000 worth of goods because the food doesn’t meet their French labeling standards. A few weeks back Home Grow-In was targeted by the agency whose two inspectors spent 6 hours combing through the store’s inventory.
There is so much wrong with this picture (additional coverage), I’m not sure where to begin:
- Let me get this straight. Is it now retailers’ responsibility to be up-to-date on all CFIA labeling criteria when selecting from thousands of products they might carry in their stores? Funny, I thought it was the CFIA’s job to ensure producers met food safety labeling criteria.
- Officially, the focus of the investigation isn’t the store, it’s the producers. Hmmm, that’s odd. Then why did the inspectors not stop by the producer’s facilities instead of nailing one of many small, local retailers and seizing goods the retailer already paid for but now cannot sell?
- Wow, way to slam small business and cut if off at the knees. A loss like that can kill a business where cash flow is critical. Not only does the business suffer, so do the employees and their families when they can’t get paid. Great ripple effect if you want more people and businesses in financial dire straits.
- Oh, and the producers of the pulled products? Many are registered with the CFIA and believed their labels met all requirements — they also haven’t been contacted by the CFIA since the raid to let them know otherwise.
- Funnily enough, imported goods on shelves all over the city which are also not bilingually labeled are not generating investigations of such fervor.
- Then there’s the selective enforcement. What about the chain grocery stores down the street where the exact same non-bilingually labeled products are also sold? Why have they not been investigated?
Want to take some tangible action? Put your money where your mouth is and support local micro food producers and the retailers who provide a critical link in helping ensure quality local products are readily available to consumers.
As for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, they are here for our protection, and we need and want them to do a good job. It’s just a good idea to ensure they are playing by rules that are as fair for the little guy as they are for the big guys.
Canada’s new system of certifying and identifying organic products comes into effect June 30, 2009. According to the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s website, “When the Organic Products Regulations come into full force on June 30, 2009, voluntary use of the “Biologique Canada Organic” designation and logo will be permitted on the labelling of those food products certified as meeting the National Organic Standards (Canadian Organic Production Systems General Principles and Management Standards CAN/CGSB 32.310 and Permitted Substances Lists CAN/CGSB 32.311).”
After June 30, 2009, consumers should see this logo (above) on various organic products. Obviously, this new system will take a while to be on all packaging, so we’ve included an excerpt from Ecoholic on what the Canadian system looks like now.
Excerpt from Ecoholic
“There are dozens of certifiers in Canada, so until the fed’s new Canada Organic regulation and label are fully phased in you might find a confusing number of logos on grocery shelves certifying to slightly different standards. (Quebec and BC are the only provinces that already had their own mandatory systems in place.)”
“In general, to qualify for organic certification, farms have to be pesticide-free for three years and must avoid synthetic inputs such as pesticides and antibiotics, as well as the deliberate use of GMO’s [Genetically Modified Organisms], while stressing soil-building. Certifiers also tend to have basic stipulations about animal welfare (no caged chickens or rabbits, for instance), although European programs are better than those in Canada and the US on this front.”
100% Certified Organic