I read food labels for a living. I am also a mom of a picky eater, a home cook and a shameless hoarder of recipes. Like many Canadians, my food dollars are limited, and so more than ever I find myself asking how I can make each food dollar have the greatest impact (both at my kitchen table and in our food system). I believe in our collective power to shape how our food is grown and made. I believe Canadians want to make good food choices that support farmers and our planet’s future. I appreciate that it is a privilege to choose.
There are hundreds of food claims in the marketplace competing for our attention. A recent Hartman report tells us that consumers, in general, feel more reassured when they see more than one claim on a package. That makes sense – if one is good, three must be better. But how are we to sift through these claims, decide what resonates for us and choose the best mayonnaise all at once. In brief, we have to ‘know the difference to make a difference.’
For a food claim to have meaning, it must be backed by a rigorous, transparent standard and be verified by a third party. This simple criteria quickly separates the organic wheat from the chaff. It eliminates such ubiquitous claims as cage free, free range and the dreaded natural. Natural has no single meaning, let alone a standard.
Organic is the most impactful, comprehensive label in today’s marketplace. It meets all of the above criteria for a meaningful label and is federally regulated. Organic is a holistic, process-based standard, which means it offers a depth and breadth of practices that single-issue labels can’t. Organic reduces our personal exposure toxic pesticides, protects waterways and pollinators, and improves soil health and biodiversity. Organic regulations don’t stop at the farm gate either. Organic standards prohibit the use of artificial food colours, flavours, sweeteners and preservatives, and many other processing aids and ingredients in packaged foods.
For a food claim to have meaning,it must be backed by a rigorous,transparent standard and be verified by a third party. This simple criteria quickly separates the organic wheat from the chaff.— Maureen Kirkpatrick
Single-issue labels provide focused expertise on a specific issue: fair labour, animal welfare and protecting migratory birds. The Non-GMO Project is a prime example of a single-issue. The orange butterfly is a trusted label for GMO avoidance, testing risk ingredients to an action threshold of 0.9 per cent. It does not address other agricultural practices such as the use of pesticides and herbicides (nor does it claim to). This is why the Non-GMO Project and Organic logos are strongest together. The same is true of Fair Trade and Local. When these labels are combined with the foundation of Organic sustainability, we maximize our food dollars.
The alternative to the puzzle of label claims is knowing the farmers who grow our food and understanding their practices firsthand. For many, particularly city dwellers, that ideal may remain aspirational or not a priority, so knowing how to decipher label claims is a worthy life skill. As consumers, we must also be mindful of throwing a “halo” on claims and imbueing a given claim with more benefits than truly exist. We must “know the difference to make a difference.”
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.