Consumer Confusion

June 26, 2014

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by Monsanto, and John Deere. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary—

Today, we have more uncertainty and questions about our food supply than ever before. Is it safe? Will it make you fat? Where did it come from? How were the animals cared for on the farm? Is our food system sustainable?

All of this debate has encouraged companies to make claims to sell more at a higher price. States and the federal government see a chance to get into the act by creating new laws and regulations. All the while, the consumer is more confused than ever.

Every 5 years since 1980, the federal government publishes “Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” When I was Secretary of Agriculture, we published the guidelines. The law requires the report to “contain nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public.” That’s it – “dietary guidelines.” But this year, HHS and USDA have added a new dimension – “Food Sustainability and Safety.” What does this mean? What is the government going to dictate to us now?

Maybe our government could make an effort to ensure that consumers have the facts when they buy food. There is a long article in the Washington Post this week which exposes all of the misinformation out there when choosing which food to buy. Their example is “gluten free” food. Is it safer? A lot of the public think it is! But it isn’t, except for the less than 1% that can’t tolerate gluten.

Never mind – Hollywood celebrities began beating the gluten free drums. You can even buy gluten free dog food. There are other examples where the food companies and the uninformed are ignoring science and the facts. When you buy “organic,” the product can still be as much as 5% non-organic. There are 200 non-organic substances that can be added. How pure is that? Trans fat free labels can be found on milk. Does that make it safer? No.

Food companies are able to capitalize on the uninformed customers. Just put an eye-catching label on the product to suggest it is safer, more healthy, more sustainable and charge twice the price. Call it – “all natural,” “low fat,” “organic,” “non-GMO,” and “gluten free.” We are just starting to see responsible reporters, scientists, ag research institutions, and some food industry companies step up to set the record straight. It’s about time.

That’s it for this week. Until next week, I am John Block in Washington, D.C.