Field Day challenged labeling understanding

Wednesday, October 9, 2019
Kyle Whittaker, an agriculture business specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, explained the importance of labeling to visitors at the Southwest Missouri Research Farm’s Field Day. Murray Bishoff/Cassville Democrat

Many ‘unregulated’ terms have no marketplace meaning

With most people three to four generations away from living on the farm, Kyle Whittaker and the University of Missouri Extension challenged students during Field Day at the Southwest Research Center to understand product labeling.

An agriculture business specialist based in Marshfield. Whittaker asserted that the entire agriculture industry loses when people do not know what they are buying.

Some product descriptions are "not regulated." Whittaker said companies can claim they are "vegan," come in an "eco-friendly carton," have "no additives," are "premium" or "high quality" or are "100 percent natural ingredients," but those are claims without clear definitions. To say that meat in the store was produced "cruelty free," he observed, comes without substantiation.

Standards get trickier when they verge on sounding like they have substance, but don't. Whittaker noted that "gluten free corn" may sound like a reasonable claim, but all corn has always been gluten free.

He urged people visiting Field Day to support labeling, and to understand its purpose. To claim that a cow is an Angus, for example, cites a strict genetic standard that customers can rely upon. Claiming a food has "zero trans fat" better mean exactly that, an issue that has been an ongoing issue with the federal Food and Drug Administration, where small amounts up to .5 grams of trans fat in food has been acceptable.

"Homemade," on the other hand, is the kind of label that can mean almost anything. For products where the government does not enforce a standard, Whittaker said consumers should be wary.

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