Mark Bittman had an interesting article in the NYTimes regarding food labels last week, and what an ideal label might look like. Check out the article for yourself here – My Dream Food Label. He suggests a three part process to creating a number for each food along with a box to indicate whether the food is made with GMO’s. The three categories to help come up with a number are nutrition (obvious), foodness (how close to real food a product is – white bread being low, while frozen broccoli being high), and then welfare (looking at how workers, animals, and the environment are treated/affected by the production of the food item).
The numerical system for labeling seems really great. But I think Bittman falls short of addressing the actual issue with the labeling system. Sure, it would be great to know what the animals are fed or if there’s high pesticide use in the production of our food. If we really had a stoplight coloring system, where sodas are colored red, this would inherently discourage soda consumption – great! It seems that this “red light” would decrease consumption of bad products, like soda or candy bars, which would be great for people, but not good for profits of the manufacturers. The labeling system proposed here is not simply a superficial system with which to let consumers know how to eat better, but it would be the beginning of radically changing how we choose which foods to consume. Bittman acknowledges that some of the information on his proposed labels is already being provided, citing Whole Foods and other retailers, but admits that “only when this kind of information is required will consumers be able to express preferences for health, sustainability and fairness through our buying patterns.”
I appreciate what Bittman proposes – we need a better, uniform system for labeling our foods. But it’s not just the food labeling system that is wrong; our food system as a whole is a problem and the labels are just a symptom of that. After all, why are companies fighting tooth and nail to prevent the mandatory labeling of GMO’s in California as part of prop 37?