Consumers challenged by misleading marketing terms

TARI COSTELLO, Special Contributor
Tari Costello

If you’ve been to a grocery store or out to eat recently it is likely that you have been witness to a new phenomenon rapidly spreading across the country.  Symptoms include consumers with glazed over eyes and zombie like movements as they make their way through their food buying decisions.

Admit it, you’ve seen it. Heck, many of you may even admit to falling victim to this as well. Buying food suddenly feels more like the childhood game of Two Truths and A Lie.  The challenge that consumers face today is trying to determine what all of these marketing terms mean.

Words like “Antibiotic-Free”, “Organic”, “No Hormones Added”, “rBst Free” and “GMO-Free” are scattered on packages everywhere.  It’s enough to make the most steadfast of consumers weak in the knees trying to figure out what all of this means. 

When antibiotics are used in the health care of animals there is a withdrawal period that must be adhered to, ensuring that there are is no antibiotic residue left in the meat when it enters the food chain.  So, ALL meat and milk is antibiotic free.  Paying more for antibiotic free products is like paying more for water labeled as wet!

The vast majority of consumers today report that they are buying organic products because they believe that organic labels mean that the product is pesticide free. This is not true. Organic producers can and do use pesticides that are naturally-derived. The perception that organic food is nutritionally superior is false.

Federal law prohibits the use of growth hormones in the production of pork or poultry.  Again, paying more for pork or poultry labeled “no hormones added” is like paying for water labeled as wet!

BST is a naturally occurring hormone produced by dairy cows. rBST is a synthetic version of this hormone that allows cows to produce more milk. There is no nutritional difference between a cow that has been treated with or without rBST.

Science has proven over and over again that GMO products are safe for human consumption. Use of GMO products has reduced starvation and saved millions of lives. Using fear and misinformation about the use of GMO products is wrong. The only GMO seed available today are alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, sorghum, soybeans, sugar beets and wheat. Seeing products labeled as GMO-Free when there is not a GMO seed available is nothing more than using a marketing tactic to sell more products.

The obvious question is what is ethically responsible labeling?  When companies label products as antibiotic or hormone free, they are telling the truth, but is the underlying message that other similar products contain hormones or antibiotics?

Where do we draw the line? 

A current student sent me pictures last week of products that she saw on the store shelves of a major retailer. The pictures were of underwear, socks and tampons labeled as Organic. Her comments were those of frustration and disbelief that consumers would be willing to pay a premium price for something like this simply because of a label that most do not understand. 

My response to her was that we all need to take an active role in educating everyone about the agriculture industry.  We can no longer idly sit by and assume that consumers understand what we do.  We are all responsible to educating and sharing our story.

The next time you see that glazed over look or zombie like movements remember to share accurate information! Educating the consumer about the products we produce is important for all of us.

Costello is an ag instructor and FFA advisor at Waupun Jr/Sr. High School