What You Eat Is Probably Not What You Think

by Davis Surface, Student in SEE-U NYC: Agro-eco/Food Systems Course

Photo by Alan Levine (Flickr)

When the phrase “all natural” is printed on a food label, it means absolutely nothing in terms of the ingredients used in the product or the practices used to prepare it (The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, 2018). For something to be labeled as “organic”, it must contain 95% organically produced ingredients (TCMNH, 2018), per USDA guidelines. What marketers intentionally keep hidden from consumers is the fact that certain pesticides such as calcium hypochlorite, chlorine dioxide, and sodium hypochlorite are among the many more “synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production” by the USDA guidelines set for organic agriculture (USDA, 2018). I found this information conveniently tucked deep into Title 7-Subtitle B-Chapter 1-Subchapter M- Part 205- Subpart G of the USDA manual, which is used by farmers as a standard in order to earn the coveted USDA Organic seal.

Companies spend a tremendous amount of time and energy using marketing techniques in order to make their product seem healthier than it actually is. In fact, companies such as Kraft, Pepsi, and Coca-Cola have progressively pursued purchasing smaller organic companies in an attempt to capitalize on the growing organic trend using the strength of their marketing muscles. An example of trickery used by these companies to make their product seem healthier than it is would be Horizon Organic milk. It boasts claims of “no added hormones”, which is true, although that is a stipulation by the USDA in all cow milk products. Another sharp example of a different tactic would be “free-range chicken eggs”. This insinuates that chickens are grazing freely on the land, which is what is usually depicted on advertisements or the box itself. In reality, requirements for free range chicken eggs are simply that chickens have exposure to the outdoors, while duration and quality of outdoor access is not defined (USDA, 2018).

It is okay if you have been fooled by these labels and were mislead to believe something that just flat out is not true; most of us have been there too. The important lesson to learn is that knowledge is the most important thing to carry with you when you go to the grocery store. The USDA website can be very difficult to navigate and has several dead-end links, but it does contain all specifications in regards to the labeling laws, and very detailed instructions on every step of the process for a company to become USDA Organic certified. Outside of digging through the thousands of pages in the USDA manuals, there are even more thousands of blogs, articles, and papers written every day with terminology that can be explained in simple English. Educating yourself should be the first goal towards leading a healthier lifestyle for both your body and the environment. Whether it be a family member, a co-worker, or a friend, it is important to pass on any information that you retain. If each person passes it on to five different people each day, 78,125 people will be able to make an informed decision when purchasing their food in a matter of just seven days. Think before you buy, and share what you think.



The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, 2018. What do food labels really mean? www.gcbl.org/live/food/healthy-diet/what-do-food-labels-really-mean/ (Accessed July 18, 2018).

US Department of Agriculture, 2018. Electronic code of federal regulations. www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&SID=9874504b6f1025eb0e6b67cadf9d3b40&rgn=div6&view=text&node=7: (Accessed July 18, 2018).


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