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Sunday, January 22, 2012

TEDx Comes to Louisville - Part 3

The last speaker of the day (for us anyway) was Dr. Urvashi Rangan. She leads and directs the Consumer Safety and Sustainbility Group for Consumer Reports. She helped clear up the VERY confusing topic of food labels. Most food labels are just marketing gobbledygook, and that is not a word I throw around lightly. Seriously, though, there is a lot of misinformation out there about food labeling. I am going to break down for you what I took away from Dr. Rangan's presentation.

* Natural - The "Natural" label is in no way regulated. It can mean whatever the company selling the product wants it to mean. And, unfortunately, it is often confused with or mistaken for the "Organic" label, which, while not perfect, is regulated. To be considered "Organic", products do have to meet certain standards.

* Fresh - This is another label that really doesn't mean anything. It is just used to make you think that what you are purchasing is somehow better for you than the other items on the shelf without the "Fresh" label.

* Free-Range - This is one that surprised me. I thought "Free-Range" meant the animals were ranging. Freely. Roaming through the fields, chatting with their friends. Turns out, not so much. "Free Range" only means that the animals have the option to go outside

* Grass Fed - This is one you can trust. To use the American Grassfed Association's seal of approval, the animals must be fed a lifetime diet of 100% forage, pasture raised and never treated with hormones or antibiotics.

Labels that SHOULD be required, but aren't...

* Genetically Engineered - Sadly, many of our foods contain genetically modified ingredients. These foods are not required to tell you that they contain these ingredients. Nor do you have to be made aware that any fruits or vegetables that you purchase have been genetically modified. Other countries have adopted mandatory labeling for GMO's and hopefully we will follow suit.

* Mad Cow Tested - This is another one that might be comforting to know, but the USDA won't allow it. Creekstone Farms in Kansas performed Mad Cow testing on their animals, but the USDA had the court block their testing. The reason they wanted to begin this testing in the first place is because Japan and other overseas countries would no longer accept beef from the U.S. for fear of it being tainted by Mad Cow. Instead of being granted the right to provide this potentially life-saving information to the public, the USDA (in my opinion) was influenced by the big, powerful cattle industry to stop this testing. Knowing that the meat you feed your family is safe could cause it to go up a few cents per pound because of the costs of testing and I think the cattle industry didn't want that to happen.

* Carbon Monoxide Added - Did you know that some case-ready ground meat is treated with carbon monoxide to help it retain its red color? I didn't. I also didn't know that even when the meat begins to spoil, the carbon monoxide allows it to stay red, which does not allow YOU to know that the meat has gone bad.

* No Nitrates/Nitrites - This was another that surprised me. And it is a bit confusing. We only buy bacon that is labeled as "Uncured" and "Nitrate Free". Turns out that what we buy is cured using only natural ingredients, but they are required by law to label their products as "Uncured" and "Nitrate Free". Confusing enough for you? I still feel better knowing only natural ingredients were used, but it is misleading.

I think the biggest thing to take from all of this is to be informed, ask questions, and fight for what you believe is right (whatever that is). We as consumers have the power to change the food industry, but we have to use our voices and our dollars to make our opinions heard. This year's talks haven't been posted yet, but if you want to hear more from the TEDx speakers, keep checking this link.

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