How much do you trust our country’s food system? If your answer is “not so much,” you’re not alone.
According to a new industry report, just 25% of consumers strongly trust our food system – 12% less than just last year. And less than half think that it’s even headed in the right direction.
That’s an enormous trust gap. What’s behind it?
For one, many have come to feel tricked by the food companies. We often think a label means one thing, only to find out it doesn’t. Take “natural” for example. On the whole, consumers think this means nothing artificial – no added hormones, pesticides, chemicals, or artificial ingredients. But it doesn’t.
Even the FDA has acknowledged that their labeling regulations fell short.
Although the FDA has not engaged in rulemaking to establish a formal definition for the term “natural,” we do have a longstanding policy concerning the use of “natural” in human food labeling. The FDA has considered the term “natural” to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food. However, this policy was not intended to address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. The FDA also did not consider whether the term “natural” should describe any nutritional or other health benefit.
It’s been a couple years since the agency signaled a willingness to finally nail down what “natural” means on a food label. The FDA has yet to offer any guidance, despite receiving just shy of 7700 public comments on the matter.
This may be another reason for the growing distrust. It can seem like the powers that be just don’t care about our concerns.
Without appropriate labeling criteria, companies can cut corners and jeopardize the integrity of the labeling as well.
Truth be told, most of us don’t know a lot about where our food comes from. So much is processed out of most of our sight, from the simple sorting and bagging of produce to the manufacture of hyper-processed products that don’t look a thing like real food at all. Much of the control of our food supply is literally out of our hands.
Greater transparency and clearer labeling criteria could go a long way toward restoring trust.
Yet this very issue of trust is one reason why we’ve seen the explosion of farmer’s markets, community gardens and CSAs, organic co-ops, and more in recent years. In addition, many small farms – livestock operations, in particular – now welcome visitors to see how animals and crops are actually raised.
As you start to appreciate how food gets from farm to table, it becomes plain that the best food you can choose has no label at all.
Image by Dawn Endico, via Flickr