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7 Lies Food Marketers Like to Tell

Posted Jul 10 2012 10:16am

Most of the public has already given up on the notion of truth in advertising. Americans probably know deep down that macaroni and cheese won't bring your family together, expensive jeans won't make you popular, and beer won't make you attractive. But at least we can trust marketers to be truthful with their product labeling – especially when it comes to food, right?

Wrong again.

Food marketers tell fibs just as much as marketers of non-essential products do, and usually, there's no government agency that performs background checks on these claims. Here are seven of the biggest food marketing whoppers to watch out for.

1. This product is "natural." Guess what? Anything can be labeled "natural" because there's no legal interpretation of the term. Apples, spam, toothpaste, and wood varnish can be "natural" regardless of any chemicals or additives they may contain. The lone exception to this rule is meat, but even the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) definition doesn't say anything about how animals were raised or whether they were given hormones or antibiotics. In other words, "natural" does not mean "organic."

2. This produce has "zero trans fat." In food marketing, zero does not always equal zero. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows food producers to use the term "zero trans fat" if it actually has trans fat in it, but the amount is less than half a gram. Sounds okay, right? Not when you consider that many health experts believe that two grams of trans fat should be your daily limit. If it has partially hydrogenated oil in it, it's going to contain some trans fat.

3. This product contains "no growth hormones." When you see this phrase on dairy goods or beef, it ostensibly means that growth hormones were not given to the cows that produced these products. But there's no third party to back up that claim, so you're really just taking the manufacturer's word for it. Furthermore, if you see this phrase on pork, turkey, or chicken, it is meaningless – since these meats are prohibited from using growth hormones anyway. It's like saying that those products "contain no ricin, razor blades, or nuclear waste."

4. This product was "raised without antibiotics." Like with hormones, labeling products with claims about antibiotics is essentially pointless; it's usually a way to skirt the issue of using the term "antibiotic-free," which is outlawed by the USDA. Forgetting for a moment that using antibiotics in meat is not always bad (like when animals get sick, for instance), producers tend to wash their meat in antimicrobials, which do the same things as antibiotics but are classified differently by the FDA.

5. This product is "pesticide-free." This phrase is used by food producers who want to market their wares as organic but cannot obtain organic certification. So they get other groups to certify their products as "pesticide-free." The problem is, these third parties often use the same guidelines as those adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – which fall far short of the standards set by organic food producers because they allow some pesticide residues on the finished product.

6. This product is "gluten-free." This niche market is booming because of the proliferation of people who want or need to consume diets that are free of gluten. But "gluten-free" hasn't been defined by the FDA despite pressure by advocacy groups to do so, so the term can be used on anything. Even some products that are free of wheat gluten may contain barley or rye gluten, which is just as troublesome for those who are sensitive or allergic to gluten. For now, truly gluten-free products are certified by either the Celiac Sprue Association or the Gluten-Free Certification Organization.

7. This product is "grass-fed." With this term, which is found on beef and other meat products, at least the USDA has set a definition, and meat producers have to submit documentation stating that they have adhered to the federal standard. But here's the problem: The USDA doesn't inspect farms to see if their animals are fully grass-fed; so again, consumers have to take the producers' word for it. And here's the biggest example of why "grass-fed" is all about marketing: You'll sometimes see the term on packages of chicken or pork, but it's well-known that if these animals are given a grass-only diet, they won't survive.

Chris Martin is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites and is also a ghostwriter for several blogs. In addition, he is an accomplished voice actor and an experienced sportscaster. Martin has also worked as a radio DJ, a traffic reporter, and a public address announcer for sporting events.

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