Garden View: Understanding food labels

BY BARBARA STORZ

Have you noticed the growing number of products that are labeled “Non-GMO” or “No Antibiotics?” Seems that products you never think about being modified are suddenly labeled “Non-GMO.” These labels may lead us to think that we are not well informed, when, in fact, the label may be a marketing tool to get product attention.

Food labels can be confusing, often unnecessarily so. To help consumers understand food labels, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension is working to improve our understanding and provide us with science-based information about our food and its production.

Announced this week at the annual Farm and Ranch Show in Amarillo, Susan Ballabina, AgriLife Extension executive associate director, stated that AgriLife Extension is launching a new website to help consumers understand our “agriculture systems in relation to health.”

The new website is Path to the Plate and the address is: http://pathtotheplate.tamu.edu. It is aimed at clarifying information and labeling terms so that consumers can be informed. Armed with accurate information, we can then make decisions about what products we wish to purchase for our families.

The website is designed to be a quick and precise stop for information. A printable fact sheet provides the definition of official terms and explains those terms that are not, at this time, official terms used by the United States Department of Agriculture or by the Food and Drug Administration.

Terms like “Non-GMO,” or “GMO-Free” are voluntary labels used by the food industry in advertising their products. In a press release covering this week’s announcement by AgriLife Extension, Angela Burkham, an AgriLife Extension family and community health state program leader, said “the Food and Drug Administration is working to better identify what these terms should mean to consumers. Other terms, such as ‘USDA Certified Organic’ do have regulations and guidelines backing them and consumers can trust that every product must meet those (regulations).”

The ‘USDA Organic’ products, including vegetables and fruits, along with packaged foods, are explained on the fact sheet, as are egg, chicken, milk and beef items. Short videos of several interviews about our agricultural system are also available on the web site.

It is hoped that, as more terms are clarified, this site will continue to update and add information. We all need a neutral place where we can find science based information that is accurate and has substance and meaning.

Check out the web site or stop by the Growing Growers Farmers Market today for a copy of the fact sheet and let’s talk about “Local” food. The market is in Firemen’s Park, corner of 1st Street and Business 83 in McAllen, and is open from 9 a.m. until noon. Today, you can enjoy a warm cup of hot chocolate or a cup of coffee while you shop.

Barbara Storz is a local horticulturist. You can listen to her farm and garden show at 7 a.m. Saturdays on 710 KURV Radio or contact her at bstorz@rcommunications.com.