Truth Behind Product Labeling

Truth Behind Product Labeling
Consumers rely on labels to make healthier and more sustainable decisions about the foods they eat and products they use in their households daily. Unfortunately for consumers, there are over 400 different labels used in almost 250 countries and across 25 industries. Researchers argue that having so many labels does more harm than good as consumers can become confused and overwhelmed (Seifert & Marti, 2012). Our goal is to help individuals make more informed purchasing decisions by providing a guide to meaningful labels. View labeling to find out the meanings of the labels.

Agriculture & Packaged Food Items
The most meaningful label for food is the USDA Organic seal. The USDA Organic seal certifies that products have been produced using USDA-approved farming methods that were “designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution” (Mayo Clinic, 2011).

The USDA Organic label verifies that the product is certified organic and has at least 95% organic content. Products that contain at least 70% of organic ingredients can say that they are “made with organic ingredients.”

The USDA has made finding organic products easier by requiring all organic Price Look Up (PLU) codes, which are found on product stickers, to have five numbers starting with nine. Products made with conventional farming techniques have four-digit PLU codes, while genetically modified products have a five-digit code starting with 8. For example:
  • Conventionally grown bananas = 4011
  • Organically grown bananas = 94011
  • Genetically modified vine ripe tomato = 84805
Meat & Eggs
According to a 2012 Consumer Reports study, 80% of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used on animals to speed up growth or prevent illness due to unsanitary and crowded living conditions. The study argues that the use of antibiotics on animals is contributing to antibiotic resistance in humans. To preserve antibiotics for treatment of human disease, the study recommends that consumers buy meat and poultry raised without antibiotics. Consumer Reports found the labels “Organic” and “No Antibiotics Administered” were the most meaningful labels for consumers when buying meat.

Household Items & Cosmetics
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the US government currently does not review the safety of cosmetics and personal care products before they are sold. The EWG created a Skin Deep Database to educate consumers about the cosmetic and personal care products they use everyday. Their database provides consumers with “product and ingredient safety ratings, health information about cosmetics ingredients and smart shopping tips” (2012).