Dairy industry group continues to attack food companies over alleged 'fear-based' labeling
A dairy industry group with strong ties to Wisconsin has added more examples to its list of what the group says is “fear-based” food labeling.
The latest examples range from “non-GMO” labels on products for which no genetically modified version exists to “no added hormone” labels on poultry products when the addition of hormones is already prohibited by federal law.
Some food companies have turned to “fear-based” labeling that plays on the fears of things like GMO products, synthetic animal-growth hormones and high fructose corn syrup, the National Milk Producers Federation says about its “Peel Back the Label” campaign.
The dairy industry trade group, based in Arlington, Va., says nearly 70% of American consumers look to food labels when making purchase decisions, but that some of the information is misleading.
For instance, one company has labeled its table salt as “GMO-free,” when it could never have been GMO in the first place because salt has no genes to modify.
Some of the new examples cited by the Peel Back the Label campaign this week include canned sliced carrots with “non-GMO” labels, when there’s no such thing as a genetically modified carrot; a “GMO-free” label on lettuce, when there is no genetically modified lettuce of any type; and a “no added hormones” label on chicken from Tyson Foods, when it’s illegal to sell poultry in the United States that was raised with added hormones.
Similar marketing practices have taken place with dairy products, according to the National Milk Producers Federation, which says it represents about 70% of Wisconsin’s dairy farms through farm cooperatives and individual memberships.
“The deceptive labels and fear-based marketing increasingly used by some food manufacturers damages consumer trust and jeopardizes the safe, sustainable farming practices that have enhanced farm productivity over the last 20 years,” said Jim Mulhern, federation president.
“Fear shouldn’t be a factor when consumers are grocery shopping. Trying to scare people into buying a product over unfounded fears is irresponsible marketing,” Mulhern said.
Critics of the campaign say it’s upsetting that the trade group is using dairy-farmer money to attack food companies, including some in the dairy industry, when consumers want more information about what’s in their food.
Research indicates many consumers continue to believe that chicken contains added hormones or steroids, when it doesn’t, Tyson Foods said in response to the Peel Back the Label campaign.
“In fact, research conducted by ORC International in June of 2017 showed 76% of respondents believed there are added hormones and steroids present in chicken. We continue to communicate our products do not contain added hormones or steroids, given this common consumer misperception,” Tyson spokeswoman Caroline Ahn said in an email.
“We do accompany the ‘no added hormones or steroids’ statement with a line indicating federal law prohibits such use, which is meant to address any potential confusion,” she said.
The National Milk Producers Federation hasn’t revealed its budget for the Peel Back the Label campaign but has said it’s a “fairly hefty” amount being spent.
One of the latest foods the campaign attacks is Cuties Mandarin oranges.
“When every citrus product on the market is already free of any GMOs, Cuties’ non-GMO label is a deceptive distinction without a difference — one clearly designed to boost market share at the expense of unwitting consumers,” the National Milk Producers Federation said.
Cuties, based in California, could not immediately be reached for comment.