As a lawyer who has called out plenty of transgressions by unethical food companies, it’s frustrating when the law gets it wrong. That’s exactly what happened to the alternative meat company Field Roast, based in Seattle, but also selling products to our neighbors to the north. That is, until the Canadian government informed Field Roast that the company’s products were mislabeled. Not only that, the products also had to be tested — wait for it — on live animals.
Archive for October, 2014
The natural products business is booming. By some industry estimates, retail sales topped an eye-popping $100 billion last year, with nearly 60 percent coming from food. No wonder more food marketers are labeling their products — from Pepsi to Cheetos — natural. But what does the term actually mean?
Despite the term’s popularity — or because of it — there is no official definition of “natural.” With the potential to deceive consumers, the issue is now reaching a breaking point. The proposed solutions from trade groups, lawyers and government agencies range from defining the term to suing over it to ignoring it. Some consumer-advocacy organizations are even calling for a complete ban on the use of “natural” in labeling. But such disparate approaches won’t help shoppers become any less confused and may even make the problem worse.
These days health-conscious consumers are increasingly seeking out food products not only with fewer ingredients and a “clean label”, but also foods produced in a manner that minimizes harm to the environment, among other ethical business practices. And it’s not enough to claim your product is healthy or sustainable with just words; to get that much-needed boost in a highly competitive marketplace, many food companies are spending the extra money to obtain third-party certification for various claims.
With far too much to regulate and too few resources, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has to be selective in enforcing deceptive marketing laws. Similarly, the Federal Trade Commission, which oversees all advertising, can’t police everybody. But while the feds have better things to do than troll the supermarket aisles looking for the latest dubious health claim, that doesn’t mean food marketers can get sloppy.