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Third Party Labels on Food

Which is better: A “natural” product or an “organic” one? Eggs from “cage-free,” “pastured” or “vegetarian-fed” chickens? “Grass-fed” or “grass-finished” beef? “Low-fat” or “reduced-fat” snacks? Or do these terms mean anything at all?

Have your clients ever asked you these kinds of questions? There is a lot of confusion out there about what food product labels mean. Terms like “gluten-free, fat-free, all-natural” and “GMO-free” imply health benefits, yet they sometimes promote processed foods full of undesirable ingredients such as refined sugars, trans fats and chemical additives.

With increasing consumer awareness of how certain processed foods may impact health, you may find yourself needing specific answers about food labeling, product claims and the regulatory gray areas frequently used in food marketing.

Some government agencies use front-of-package pictorial seals or logos. These include the “USDA Organic” seal and the “USDA Process Verified” shield.

However, food logos and icons can also be created by third-party, nongovernment groups. Some labels are health-related and have publicly available standards (such as the “Heart-Check mark” of the American Heath Association). Others, such as the now-defunct, industry-created “Smart Choices” campaign, have been roundly criticized as legally egregious marketing ploys (Nestle & Ludwig 2010).

On a positive note, third-party labels may also help fill information voids that government oversight doesn’t cover. For example, there are no official government-regulated terms related specifically to thorough animal-welfare practices, but there are reputable third-party labels (such as the Certified Humane icon, or American Grassfed Association logo) that address these.

Third-party labels may also relate to eco-friendly agricultural methods and GMOs. Examples include the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal of the Non-GMO project, or the “Certified Naturally Grown” (CNG) logo, billed as a grass-roots alternative to the “USDA Organic” label. The CNG seal is principally used by owners of small farms who may not have the financial resources to become USDA certified as organic; it’s a viable option at many farmers’ markets.

To read more about food labeling, please see “What You Don’t Know About Food Labeling Could Undermine Your Health” in the online IDEA Library or in the March 2015 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

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