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Truth In Labelling

When a nearby national grocery chain hosted a beef sale last summer, this carnivore grabbed his chequebook and motored to the store’s meatcase as fast as the Exploder’s worn wheel bearings allowed.

I was greeted with a ruby wave of shrink-wrapped beef loins sporting stickers that announced their Angus origins. Nowhere, however, could I find the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s grading stamp on any of the packages.

Excuse me, I said to the man in a white smock behind the counter, are these loins Choice or Select?

“They’re Angus,” he replied.

I can see that, but what’s their grade – Choice or Select? “They’re Angus,” he repeated.

That’s a breed, I explained, it’s not a USDA grade.

“Look,” he said as he walked away, “they’re Angus.”

I, too, walked away because I will not spend 100 bucks – or even 10 bucks – for a rack of rib-eyes without a USDA grade stamp. Call me crazy, but if you can’t tell me what you’re selling, I ain’t buying.

That’s “smart,” agree the folks behind the Certified Angus Beef program. According to the CAB website, “‘USDA Inspected’ on the label may sound dandy, but be smart. If it doesn’t say Select, Choice or Prime on the sticker, it usually means the product received a Standard grade.” ( http://www.certifiedangusbeef.com/brand/grades. php)

As such, no grade – no information – should mean no sale to “smart” consumers. But all information isn’t always informative. After all, a breed of cattle isn’t a grade of beef.

That seems to be the logic behind the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute’s challenge to renewed efforts by the Food and Drug Administration to inform consumers on what’s in the food they’re buying.

The faceoff is over information FDA wants to list on the front of food packages. FDA, with the strong backing of First Foodie Michelle Obama, wants labels to list “nutrients that consumers might want to avoid, like sodium, calories and fat,” reported the Jan. 25New York Times.

Not surprisingly, Big Food prefers voluntary labels that de-emphasize anything which could be viewed as less than healthy. It favours labels that “highlight beneficial nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and protein.”

The problem with Big Food’s plan is that it’s more about marketing than labelling. The FDA believes it will sow more confusion than clarity.

As an Obama administration official anonymously explained to theTimes,“(I)ce cream would be deemed healthy because it would have calcium in it.”

Big Food, of course, isn’t big stupid; it’s hanging its plan on the First Lady’s well-regarded – and, so far, successful – push to link healthy food with healthier children.

“We would not be here today if she had not defined the common objective,” noted the Grocery Manufacturers Jan. 24 news release in announcing their plan to challenge the FDA labels.

No, they wouldn’t.

But the healthy bus is headed at ’em so now they want to grab the wheel, according to theTimes,in this “tug of war to convey important nutrition facts in a simple, easy-to-understand way on the front of packaged foods.”

Farmers and ranchers have a fork in this fight. All farm and commodity groups proudly claim their members produce the best food in the world for the most affluent market in the world.

So let’s proclaim that quality and wholesomeness with clear, honest labels to, hopefully, claim a larger share of that affluence.

At the very least, let’s not make it more confusing.

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