Category Archives: label checking

It’s dinnertime. Do you know where your steak comes from?

cool-steak_edited_custom-98285bfb113e2e7a5b6c993307cccf02571b0c32-s800-c85While it may not be a question you ask yourself all the time, is pretty sure you’ve noticed the country of origin listed on your steak’s grocery store packaging. You’ve also, undoubtedly, read about the origins of your poultry and pork as well. That’s because of the COOL law that requires country of origin labels on our meats. Soon though, that may all change, prompting us to inquire … it’s dinnertime … do you know where your steak comes from?

An attachment to the last-minute spending proposal going before Congress this week would end a six-year trade dispute between the U.S. and Canada. If it’s passed, as seems likely, the omnibus budget bill would repeal a law called COOL that requires “country-of-origin labels” on meat.

The labels are all over the meat aisle of grocery stores in the U.S. on packages of uncooked beef, pork and poultry. They declare where animals were born, raised and slaughtered.

Country-of-origin labels are seen by many in the beef industry, in particular, as a way to promote American beef the way car companies or appliance manufacturers might market themselves as “Made in the USA.”

And there is more foreign competition in the beef industry. That’s something Mike Briggs has certainly noticed. He runs a feedlot near the small town of Seward, Neb. Some 20,000 calves come through his pens each year to suck up corn and pack on pounds.

Normally, Briggs would say his competition comes from feedlots in Kansas or Texas. But these days, he says, meat packers import lean beef from Brazil and Canada to mix with fat trimmings from the U.S.

“More meat into the country is more meat into the country, and that’s that much less [meat] they buy from us,” Briggs said.

Canadian and Mexican cattle producers benefit from the blurring borders of the beef industry, but they say COOL makes it more difficult to sell meat in America. Konstantinos Giannakas, an agricultural economist at the University of Nebraska, says that’s why Canada went to the World Trade Organization to argue that the origin labels are discriminatory.

“Does it discriminate? Yes,” said Giannakas, who has studied how consumers respond to food labels. “But we discriminate because we choose a quality that fits our interests, and I cannot see how this is unethical or unfair or illegal.”

The WTO disagreed, and last week it said Canada and Mexico can charge American businesses $1 billion in tariffs.

Many in Congress say they’re tired of fighting with America’s top trading partner. Sen. Pat Robert, R-Kan., lobbied to repeal COOL on the Senate floor in July after the U.S. lost its final appeal at the WTO.

“It doesn’t matter if you support COOL or if you oppose COOL,” Roberts said. “You cannot ignore the fact that retaliation is imminent and that we must avoid it.”

Retaliation is not just aimed at beef. Canada could levy tariffs against a laundry list of products — including furniture, wine and frozen orange juice. Those industries won’t stand up for beef, and that puts more pressure on Congress.

Doing away with the labels doesn’t mean imported meat will be any less safe. All meat coming into the country is subject to inspection by the USDA. But food advocacy groups argue that knowing the country of origin is like seeing a list of ingredients or nutrition facts. They say the repeal of COOL makes it harder for consumers to make informed decisions.

“The COOL rider demonstrates that these international trade deals can and do overturn U.S. laws and should prompt Congress to reconsider any support for the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, said in a statement.

The reaction in the beef industry is divided. Cattlemen like Jim Dinklage of Nebraska want to keep the labeling. He says without it, global meat companies like Brazil-based JBS find it easier to cut American ranchers out of the loop.

“They’re importing meat from Brazil, and they’re going to ship it out of Brazil and bring it into this country,” Dinklage said. “(Beef) would go the same way as the textile industry.”

But Mike Briggs, who runs that big feedlot, doesn’t think labels are actually helping. Packers spend millions to keep animals separate for labeling, but he says not enough shoppers are buying meat based on labeling to make it pay.

“And if [the packer is] not going to get paid for it, we’re not going to get paid for it. And all that financial pressure always slides down and ends up in the feedyard’s lap or the rancher’s lap,” Briggs says.

Some Senate Democrats are now pushing for voluntary country-of-origin labels. But America’s neighbors say they will only stop the tariffs if labels on meat are repealed.

Transparency can often have to do with more than the source of ingredients and whether or not certain items are controversial. It’s important to know where our food comes from in every way – including what country it was imported here from. We like knowing where our steak originated. And we like having a choice regarding the steaks that we purchase.

General Mills settles suit over 100% Natural claims on Nature Valley Granola Bars

Earns General MillsHere at we often talk about the “halo effect” surrounding certain food products. Language used on certain food products is often designed to impart a certain image. The brand name Nature Valley, for instance, ascribes a wholesome stature to products bearing the name. And often you’ll find 100% natural claims on Nature Valley products.

The non-profit Center for Science in the Public acts as a sort of truth squad for food claims, outing many “good for you” labels and ads for the shameless distortions that they are.

Now, the center reports the settlement of a suit it brought against General Mills for calling Nature Valley granola bars and other products “100% Natural” even though they contained highly processed sweeteners. (Wait, you mean “high-fructose corn syrup” doesn’t just count as corn?) From it’s press release:

WASHINGTON—A settlement agreement announced today prevents General Mills from claiming that its Nature Valley granola bars, crispy squares, and trail mix bars are “100% Natural” if those products contain high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, dextrose monohydrate, maltodextrin, soy protein isolate, or several other artificially produced ingredients. The agreement, which is effective immediately and applies to labeling and marketing for 30 Nature Valley products, settles a 2012 lawsuit brought on behalf of consumers by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest and two law firms.
CSPI privately raised its concern with General Mills over its “100% Natural” claims as early as 2005. The company began phasing out its use of high-fructose corn syrup in some products, but at the time of CSPI’s lawsuit was still using high-maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin. While those ingredients are derived from corn, they are produced by treating corn starch with acids, enzymes, or both before being refined into a substance that does not occur in nature.

The center notes that a bill introduced in Congress in 2013 “would prohibit the use of the word ‘natural’ on a food that includes any synthesized ingredient, or any ingredient that has undergone chemical changes such as corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, maltodextrin, chemically modified food starch, or alkalized cocoa.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that some Nature Valley packaging had apparently already been changed. It says a “spokeswoman for General Mills said the changes were made in 2012 and preceded the lawsuits, which she said the company fought because the suits sought damages. She said General Mills agreed to the settlement to avoid further litigation, and has no plans to change its current labels.”

The Journal also reports that lawsuits over “natural” labeling have been proliferating of late, with more than 100 filed in recent years.

Consumers have targeted PepsiCo Inc., Campbell Soup Co. , Ben & Jerry’s, Kashi, Skinnygirl and dozens of other food and drink brands.

Several companies have quietly removed “natural” claims from the juice, ice cream, potato chips and other foods they make. Campbell eliminated the claim from Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers and Pepsi got rid of the phrasing on its Naked juice bottle.

A commenter on The Wall Street Journal story writes:

The sad truth is that if you are buying something in a wrapper, box, can or any sealed container, it almost certainly is adulterated with either sugar, hydrogenated oil, preservatives, or all of these, not to mention excess salt, and “additives.”

Go to your friendly neighborhood chain food market and take a magnifying glass. Read the labels on “breakfast cereal”. Of the fifty brands there, chances are that all fifty contain added sugar/corn syrup, or concentrated fruit juice for sweetening. Do the same with “juices” and discover there MAY be ONE or TWO actual juices there, everything else is adulterated and soaked in corn syrup. Basically if it’s in a container, it’s semi junk or junk food.

None of this comes as a surprise to the community. And while it is true that many manufacturers have removed natural claims from their labels, well … let’s just say it remains a good idea to read ingredient lists consistently. Remember, every manufacture can change ingredients without notification. A while back, Hunt’s promoted the removal of high-fructose corn syrup from its ketchup. Shortly thereafter, it reverted to using high-fructose corn syrup because they claimed consumers preferred the original recipe. They do still have a version of their ketchup without HFCS. But the whole chain of events occurred very quietly.

Be a consistent label reader who isn’t influence by packaging claims and you’ll naturally avoid unnatural ingredients!

Froot Loops Healthier in Australia & New Zealand

Some American food manufactures make healthier versions of their products in other countries because those countries have stricter food policies. An example of this is Kellogg’s Froot Loops, here is the American version’s nutrition information and here is the Australian & New Zealand version’s nutrition information.

Watch here as we point out the differences:

It’s really amazing to us that the U.S.A. can allow these processed and sugar laden foods with controversial ingredients but it appears that other westernized countries eat a healthier version of the product. And we wonder how our childhood obesity rates are out of control?