How Much Do Food Labels Matter?

Written on December 31, 2013 at 1:21 pm , by
















It doesn’t feel like winter until the temperature dips below freezing and I whip up a big batch of chili that makes my house smell heavenly—but is still healthy. Instead of ground beef, I use ground turkey which cuts, among other things, the fat and calories. And because I like to know it’s organic and antibiotic-free meat, that usually means a trip to Whole Foods.

It’s not cheap, but there are some health splurges I’m willing to make and this happens to be one of them. My chili recipe is heavy on cholesterol-fighting kidney beans and I needed two cans, so, on this particular day, I decided to save some time and pick them up at the same supermarket. What Whole Food had to offer cost a few cents more than what I usually get (hmmm), was in a small box (interesting, no can) and had a label stating that this was not a genetically modified food (wow!). No GMOs?

Australia, Italy, the United Kingdom and 61 other countries require labeling of genetically engineered foods. But while the overwhelming majority of Americans say they’d like labeling (and our Family Circle Facebook poll even showed 99% of you want labeling), the numbers don’t work out that way in voting booths. This winter, Washington state’s Initiative 522 (which would have required genetically engineered foods to be labeled as such) failed to be passed with 54.8% of voters saying no thanks to GMO labeling. Perhaps concerns about additional costs and unclear legislation turned the tide in a different direction?

It may surprise you to know that we’re probably already consuming a fair amount of modified foods. “Most soybeans, corn, canola and sugar beets grown in the U.S. are genetically modified for herbicide tolerance and insect resistance,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It: How to Decode Food Labels and Make the Healthiest Choice Every Time. That means everything from your breakfast cereal to your taco shell to your soda could contain GMOs.

Experts continue to debate over whether you should or shouldn’t be concerned about GMOs. They also go toe-to-toe over whether you should or shouldn’t care enough to see them labeled. There are certainly pros and cons, with a great rundown here. If you choose to go the non-GMO route, there are options out there to make it easier. Whole Foods, for example, has pledged that by 2018, all products in their U.S. and Canadian stores will be labeled to indicate whether they contain GMOs. And already, a great number of them do—like those red kidney beans that I did end up buying.

Increasingly, it seems that we live in a world where you need to vote with your dollars. It happens with what we listen to: Opposed to that racy song they’re playing on the radio? Don’t let your kid download it for $1.29. It happens with what we watch: Upset about all the violence in flicks these days? Make sure the next $100 you drop on family movie night goes to a comedy. And it appears that it’s happening with what we eat.

Are you concerned about GMOs? What percentage more in price, if required, would you be willing to pay for non-GMO foods? Post a comment below and share your thoughts.

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12 Responses to “How Much Do Food Labels Matter?”

  1. Labeling is coming! CT has voted for a labeling bill, as has Maine. Vermont’s Senate is about to vote on a bill similar to the ones in CT and Maine. On Wednesday, January 15, New Hampshire’s House will vote on an amended version of HB660, our bill to require the labeling of genetically engineered foods.

    To any NH folks: Please join us!

  2. Forget labeling! Ban them!

  3. I sign every petition I get my hands on to get it labeled.

  4. Why are other countries so far ahead of the U.S. where they are labeling products. The chemical companies in the U.S. pay out so much money just so that they can use MORE chemicals in our food supply. Why are they afraid to have labels on our food? I just watched a film on youtube by Dan is so interesting in regards to the bees, how they are dieing from the chemicals that they are putting into our seeds. OMG…and we eat that…why do you think there is so much Cancer and illness in the U.S.? Please Please label our products. You have a choice whether to buy that product or not… but LET US HAVE A CHOICE ! ! !

  5. I should be afforded the right to make an informed decision on where to put my grocery dollars.

    I am aware of the fruits and vegetables that I should buy organic and sometimes defer to price, but I do that with full knowledge.

    Then it is My decision not the sellers. If I make enough of the right decisions the sellers will come to where I am and only offer the good stuff to everybody.

  6. These genetically modified foods were approved by our politicians and were never adequately tested by the FDA or Ag and Markets. Mitt Romney, Don Rumsfeld and Bill Gates all made millions. Testing was left to Monsanto, the biggest of the biotech firms. They have polluted the world’s farmland and destroyed mass numbers of farmers lives. They have exposed the world to plants not found in nature that are causing great concern because of increases in disease. We do not need GMOs. They are harmful to Heath and the environment. They have made a few stockholders incredibly rich – at the expense of so many. That seems to be all that matters anymore. They are making a ton of money. It is criminal.

  7. I found out more about gmo’s looking for foods for my husband a diabetic and found that we really need to get away from vegetables with gmo’s in them. I was esp. concerned on the affects showing up in testing that would affect my grandchildren and great grandchildren and I found most of my children don’t know a thing about them or very little. Since we don’t have a whole foods near by I am having a very hard time finding anything with no gmo’s or usda organic. How to we get that information out to our young families and mothers esp. As a former nurse I talked to some others and found nurses and Dr’s are becoming more and more concerned on new reports coming out esp. with signs from more herbicides and pesticides on these plants and GMO problems are showing up in cancer tests etc. There is little to nothing on the news. I am very afraid this will all come tumbling down on our teens as they get older and not in time to help their children. I was sorry your article was so small, it will be missed by many but hope soon you can put it in your headline articles. I don’t think anyone who has researched the news coming out isn’t worried but what to do now is the question for the farmers and growers and big corporations. How do we turn this around. Pointing fingers probably will come but is useless for their were some good reason’s to try something new, but this one is bad news. thanks.

  8. I seem to be the only commentor who isn’t anti-GMO, so here goes. . . I do work in agriculture, but I work independently of the pesticide companies. Actually, my job is such that the more testing the public demands, the more secure and profitable my job is – so I don’t actually benefit from lax or reduced food safety testing standards. But I feel my job, experience, and education also make me uniquely qualified to weigh in on the subject.

    Pesticide-resistant crops (usually, but not always, GMO) do not increase the amount of pesticides being used on farmland – they generally reduce pesticide use. It gives farmers the opportunity to use a pesticide previously unavailable for a given crop that works quite well rather than a barrage of traditional pesticides that only work marginally well. And oftentimes the pesticides used are significantly less toxic with less environmental longevity than the “traditonal” pesticides.

    As for the bees – there is no definitive evidence that any ONE thing is causing death. There are a number of factors being researched along with pesticide use – including disease and a lack of diverse breeding genetics in man-raised hives. The current best guess is that it’s a combination of the three – a perfect storm situation. The fact that the individuals who raise and sell bees are not being diverse enough in their breeding program is a big red flag – there was a similar issue with corn in the 70s (maybe 80s? I forget exactly what years)that resulted in one disease decimating the majority of the nation’s corn crop. An interesting fact I learned from a bee researcher this past summer is that pretty much all of the death statistics come from domestic hives and they aren’t sure what’s going on in wild hives – they can’t positively track population numbers in wild hives.

    And testing? There is an entire industry set up in the US for independent testing of pesticide residues and GMO food safety. The structure is set up to be so independent that completely different companies/entities perform the different stages of research. One company will do the field work (application and harvest), another will do the lab analysis of the grain, and another will conduct feeding studies with livestock (in which they feed the “contaminated” grain to livestock). Monsanto DOES NOT do all the testing. No company performs their own safety testing for the very reason that it would never be viewed as independent, and therefore would never be seen as valid.

    Does that mean that we shouldn’t test these crops and pesticides for safety? No – again, a little biased on this one – I like my job :) Does that mean our foods aren’t safe? No – if we’re honest with ourselves, our food is safer than its ever been.

    And to clear up what I feel is a common misconception (and at least one comment above reflects this), when a food is labeled “organic” that does NOT mean it hasn’t had pesticides applied. Many organic farms use pesticides, they’re just “natural.” However, natural doesn’t always equal safe (herbal supplements, anyone?). Traditional natural herbicides were copper-based and are still used in organic systems – that means higher metal content in your food. And if natural fertilizers aren’t cured properly, you can end up with E. coli poisoning. So there are pros and cons to both sides.

  9. Hi, I am from NC and would really like to get involved but always seem to find myself finding out about this stuff later than sooner…any recommendations for a good website that sends updates for GMO Legislation?

  10. As a 63 year young person, I have developed an allergy or intolerance to soy. Why now? What’s next? Do you know how hard it is to find processed food or salad dressings that don’t contain soy? I have no proof, but I think the allergy/intolerance is related to the chemical companies messing around with our food — could be GMO related or something else they’re doing. They need to STOP messing with our food!!! I will definitely shop whole foods if that’s what we need to stop buying GMO/altered food (includes pink slime foods).

  11. I’m also 63 years young, and have the same problem with soy. I’ve eaten soy for years and have recently become intolerant. I also cannot eat corn or oats. I believe it is GMO products too.

  12. I’m disappointed in Family Circle they have this information and published just a small space in their magazine(Feb2014 issue)but yet Monsanto which they are the number one company for producing GMO’S have two page add on your magazine.