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Deceptive Food Labeling

Is whole-wheat bread really made with the whole grain? Apparently if you are buying Canadian whole-wheat bread, it is not. Health Canada states that a product can put "100% whole wheat" on the label even if up to 70% of the wheat germ is removed. In order to gain the health benefits of grain, we need to consume the whole grain so that we can get all the nutrients and phyto-chemicals in the ratios naturally present in the grain. If part of the grain is stripped away, it is far less health promoting, as the interactions between nutrients is disrupted. It is something like choosing a book you want to read, then deciding it is too heavy to carry, so you rip out 30% of the pages. Somehow the story won't flow anymore. Here is another example of poor legislation which allows for deceptive labeling practices by food manufacturers, leading customers to believe that they are choosing a healthy whole-grain product when in fact they are not. How can a health-conscious consumer possibly make good choices when the labels are plain wrong? If you bake, don't choose Canadian-made whole-wheat flour - choose an American brand as in the US, whole-wheat actually means whole-wheat. Or better yet if you have oodles of time, buy, soak and dry the wheat berries, and grind your own flour.

Lower-fat milk and yogurt, whether skim, 1% or 2%, are also products that are deceptively labeled, and this one can have really serious health consequences. Regulations allow producers of milk to put milk powders into the milk and yogurt in order to give a creamy mouth-feel, and they do not have to tell you on the label whether or not it is included. So, some brands might contain powdered milk, and others may not, but as consumers we don't know. Powdered milk is spray-dried in the manufacturing, oxidizing the cholesterol in it, which makes it far more dangerous than the fat in full-fat milk and yogurt. The other benefit of using full-fat milk and yogurt is that the fat in the milk makes it possible to absorb the calcium, vitamins and other minerals contained in it. As such, the minerals and vitamins in lower fat milk products are less bio-available. Because whey protein-powders and powdered eggs are also spray-dried, they are problematic for the same reason, and in my opinion, should be avoided at all costs, particularly if there is any susceptibility to heart disease or stroke. Remember that dairy products labeled "organic" is not insurance against the use of powdered milk. As big agribusiness and giant retailers like Wal-Mart try to take advantage of the lucrative organic market, corners are being cut that result in the organic label beginning to lose its idyllic family-farm roots and environmental consciousness.

In North America, the other huge food cover-up where there is no labeling whatsoever, is with respect to genetically engineered food. Currently, the only way a consumer can avoid GMO foods with certainty is to buy organic only. Hopefully the organic label will never be degraded to the point where we cannot rely on it to avoid GMO.  I think it is criminal that we are the guinea pigs in a very very young experiment, and we have not given our informed consent to participate. About 70% of processed food contains GMO ingredients, and most people probably have no idea that they are eating GMO food on a daily basis. What happens to those with nut allergies that consume GMO soy that has been altered to contain brazil-nut proteins? Tests show that they become allergic to the soy beans too. Nut allergies can be fatal for some - this to me sounds like potential for disaster, and the consumer can't read a label to see what sorts of genes have been put into the food being consumed.  Corn (including popcorn), soy, canola and cotton are the most common GMO crops - in fact, those crops are pretty much guaranteed to be GMO, unless the product says "non-GMO" or "certified organic".  That means that any product made with these ingredients is also GMO, including those heavily marketed, touted-as-healthy (NOT!) soy products, corn syrup which is in practically everything including many low-fat frozen dinners, and canola and soy oil which are frequently in baked goods, salad dressings and mixed spices. Check the product code on the produce sticker, and if the first number of five is an 8, it is GMO, if the first number of five is a 9 the produce is organic, and if there are only four numbers, the produce is conventional.

Other labeling deceptions include using the word "light" to mean light in colour, flavour or texture, deceiving the consumer into thinking the product is low in calories or fat. "Made with real fruit" may mean that it contains fruit flavours which may not be real at all. "Natural" can mean anything. Often packages show beautiful farm scenes that imply a wholesome, quality product, but frequently the truth is far different. The goal of the food manufacturer is to use the label to sell us the food - they really don't care about our health. Hopefully by being more knowledgeable consumers, we can wade through the misinformation and make quality food choices.

Related tips:
Proper grain, nut and seed preparation
Choosing Quality Dairy
The Soy Controversy
GMO - Crossing the Species Barrier

Schwartz, Rosie The whole grain truth The National Post Vol. 9, No. 68, Tues. Jan. 16, 2007.
Valenzuela, Alfonso et al. Cholesterol oxidation: Health hazard and the role of antioxidants in prevention Biological Research Vol. 36, no. 3-4 Santiago 2003.

Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Volume 6, Chapter 1, Food and Drug Administration Part 101 Food Labeling Section 101.4 states:
(3) Skim milk, concentrated skim milk, reconstituted skim milk, and nonfat dry milk may be declared as "skim milk" or "nonfat milk".
(4) Milk, concentrated milk, reconstituted milk, and dry whole milk may be declared as "milk".
(7) Whey, concentrated whey, reconstituted whey, and dried whey may be declared as "whey".
(8) Cream, reconstituted cream, dried cream, and plastic cream (sometimes known as concentrated milk fat) may be declared as "cream".
(10) Dried whole eggs, frozen whole eggs, and liquid whole eggs may be declared as "eggs".
(11) Dried egg whites, frozen egg whites, and liquid egg whites may be declared as "egg whites".
(12) Dried egg yolks, frozen egg yolks, and liquid egg yolks may be declared as "egg yolks".

Ravnskov, Uffe, MD, PhD The Cholesterol Myths: Exposing the Fallacy that Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease, New Trends Publishing Inc., Washington D.C., 2000.
Krumholz HM and others. Lack of association between cholesterol and coronary heart disease mortality and morbidity and all-cause mortality in persons older than 70 years. Journal of the American Medical Association 272, 1334-1340, 1994.
Online at Food Ingredients First CSPI: FDA Misleads Congress on Agency Efforts to Halt Deceptive Food Labeling July 2006.
Online at How is powdered milk made? Interview with Mark Silvas of the Humboldt Creamery.
Online at Powdered eggs
Coile, Zacharie House votes to dump state food safety laws San Franscisco Chronicle March 2006.
Online at The Organic Myth - Pastoral ideals are getting trampled as organic food goes mass market Business Week October 2006.

Copyright 2007 Vreni Gurd