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Food Labeling: The Next Big Consumer Protection Scandal??

Posted in Consumer Protection

I’m going to look in my crystal ball and predict that the next big consumer protection fiasco will be food labeling.  Last year we saw the “pink slime” scandal result in the product’s removal from a lot of hamburgers.  Consumer outrage over discovering the presence of pink slime in our beef supply was so strong that he USDA felt the need to justify its approval of pink slime as “safe,” in this statement. Lately, we’ve seen Europe erupt over a horsemeat scandal.  The New York Times noted that:

“The discovery of horse meat in products labeled as beef in the European Union has raised serious questions, not just about food labeling, but also about food safety and the working of the somewhat opaque, global horse meat industry.”

What grabs my attention about this quote isn’t the “ick” factor about eating horsemeat, but rather the “somewhat opaque” horse meat industry.  From a consumer’s perspective, an area you do NOT want to be full of mystery and fly-by-night standards is the food you eat.

People naturally have a visceral reaction when they hear about problems with food.  People might get upset if a coupon they have isn’t honored, or their car manufacturer won’t fix a recurring problem under warranty, but when it comes to food, the response is frequently a gut-wrenching, “Eww,” accompanied by a nose wrinkled in disgust.  The problem is that we have only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to food labeling problems.  My theory is: the problems have only just begun.

As our food chain becomes more and more industrialized we are going to see more and more “scandals” like pink slime and horsemeat.  The fact is we just don’t know where  food comes from anymore. We trust our food supply chain, and various government regulators, to keep food safebut that food supply chain is only getting more complex, more globalized and more industrialized.  A lot of the claims we see on products, such as “free-range,” or “organically grown,” or “hormone-free,” are unregulated and based on standards that may or may not have anything to do with consumer expectations. On the worst end of the scale we will see outright lies, a food label might say “sustainably grown (or raised),” when in fact it is grown just the same way something has always been.

Just a couple weeks ago we saw Oceana release a study that revealed fish types were mislabeled at levels ranging from 25% – 70% for common species.  So that Red Snapper you ordered for dinner last night might not have been red snapper at all.  In fact there is an 87% chance that it was NOT.

The tough part for consumers is that there is very little you can do to verify a food label’s claims.  You can do some cursory internet research, but most consumers just don’t have the resources to truly verify label claims – we can’t all DNA test the fish we just bought before we serve it up for dinner.

So where does this leave consumers and what can we do?  We absolutely cannot shut our eyes to this – what you eat directly affects your health.  You need to know what you are putting into your body.  What we can do is start asking questions and verifying label claims.  Talk to your legislative representatives and let them know you are concerned about this issue: you deserve the truth from labels on the food you buy.  If we start to ask questions and set standards now, we might be able to avoid a bigger scandal, and possibly even a health problem, later.

Have your rights as a consumer been violated? Do you know of a mislabeled food product? Call Berk Law today at 202-232-7550 to discuss your legal rights.