During the holiday season, it is tradition to indulge - or overindulge - on fantastic homemade meals with family and friends. For me, the best time is the after-meal nap with the feeling that I could explode, cursing myself for ignoring my reasonable self and going back for more of Grandma’s Chicken and Noodles and homemade pie! Food and family are very important parts of the holiday tradition.
When we are shopping for supplies, we see labels that say organic, gluten free, hormone free, all natural, GMO free, antibiotic free, etc. The marketing team that put the labels on these products are often misleading the consumer. Many products are labeled gluten free or hormone free or GMO free unnecessarily and are designed to mislead the consumer into paying more for a product.
These ‘marketing scams’ as I call them often cost you more when there is no way the product could possibly contain the feared technology or product.
With this in mind, I am hoping to educate consumers to sort out the misleading products and labels from fact.
It is common to see poultry labeled with a hormone-free or antibiotic-free label. All poultry in the U.S. is free of added hormones.
All food products contain some naturally occurring hormones, but it is illegal to add hormones to poultry. So, there is no reason to buy a turkey or chicken that is marketed as hormone free. Why are chickens and turkeys so much larger than they used to be? Selective breeding is the answer, not hormone use.
A very small amount of hormones are sometimes used in beef production but it is in very minute amounts and is early in the animal’s life. No added hormone will remain when it reaches your plate! Antibiotics can be used in all animal production in the United States, but it is only used when it benefits the animal’s health. Using antibiotics is expensive, so it is only used when absolutely necessary and is recommended or prescribed by a veterinarian. There is a strictly enforced, pre-market ban on the use of antibiotics in all meat production, which prevents any antibiotics from reaching your table.
So ignore the hormone free and antibiotic free labels, they are only after your money!
What about milk?
There is much confusion about milk production. Can milk contain added antibiotics or hormones? Let’s deal first with the antibiotics. Milk cows sometimes get an infection, just like you or I, which are treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics are only used when the animal will benefit and under the supervision of a veterinarian. Every truckload of milk is sampled and tested before being unloaded at a processing facility to determine if antibiotics are in the milk. Only milk testing negative can be processed. Milk testing positive for antibiotics is destroyed.
Milk produced in the United States is extremely safe. But what about hormones? Milk contains hormones in small amounts that occur naturally, so there is no such thing as hormone-free milk. Hormones are sometimes given to milk cows to increase milk production. The FDA says that milk from cows given a growth hormone is safe, and there is no nutritional difference in the milk produced from animals with added hormones or without. Most of the milk produced in the United States comes from cows that have not been given any growth hormone. If you are still concerned, check the label, you can purchase milk from cows that have never had any added growth hormones. Be aware; you may be paying more for this milk unnecessarily.
As for me, I consider our U.S. milk supply safe and will purchase milk from a reputable supplier with no concerns about antibiotics or hormones.
GMOs help feed the world
GMO-free labels are also designed to get into your pocketbook. GMO products, or biotech products as we are now calling them, are the most studied food products in the world today. There are thousands of research articles written about GMO products and hundreds of government agencies across the world overseeing GMO products. In fact, there are more than 2,000 independent studies about GMOs and there is not one credible scientific study that proves GMOs are unsafe.
That is not to say there are not some articles based on bad scientific methodology or techniques that claim GMOs are bad. Look at the source of the article to help filter out the junk. Reputable scientific studies are peer reviewed by multiple respected scientists and printed in respectable journals. A simple google search will not necessarily show a reputable source at the top of the search. Those sources may be several pages into an internet search. GMO-free labels are also designed to remove your money from your pocket. Save yourself some dollars and buy yourself a Christmas present rather than overpaying for a misleadingly labeled product.
The Economist magazine reported that nearly 3.1 million children under the age of 5 died of malnutrition in 2013. Not a single person died because of a GMO or a biotech product. We need advanced modern agricultural practices like biotech crops to be able to produce enough food to feed our growing population.
Gluten-free labels can be misleading
Gluten-free labels are often misleading as well. Some bottled water and potato chips carry gluten-free labels even though it is impossible to contain gluten. The only products that contain gluten are products that contain wheat. There is a very small population - 2 to 7 percent - who cannot tolerate gluten or that have celiac disease. If you are one of those people, then you are probably already aware of gluten intolerance, and you should only buy the gluten-free products.
As for the rest of the human population, purchasing a product that is gluten free is completely unnecessary. Don’t fall for the misleading marketing ploy!
All-natural and organic
You also have choices to purchase products listed as all-natural or organic. Studies have indicated that there is no difference nutritionally between organic produced foods and foods produced using modern agricultural techniques. Since there is no difference, I see no differences in the products. So I purchase the product based on my desire for the product.
I completely ignore organic or all-natural labels. I don’t discourage organic production. In my view, this is a way for a farmer to get more for a product by using marketing as a tool. I say more power to the organic farmer. I am not an organic farmer. I can’t produce enough crop on my farm organically to survive. I need to use modern agricultural practices to combat all of the outside forces attempting to kill my crop.
I support those who raise organic products. It is very common, however, for organic farmers to speak out against modern agriculture to gain more market share. This is unfortunate and misleading. The fact is, modern agriculture is the only hope for providing an adequate food supply to our growing population. You won’t see me discouraging organic producers, but my hope is organic producers will stop the misleading marketing campaign that discourages modern agriculture.
There are more than 300 nonprofit groups that spend over $2.5 billion annually spreading misinformation about agriculture and ag technologies. Question what you are told, do the research. The American food supply is the safest in the world. Rest assured that your holiday meal can be enjoyed without worrying about all of the misleading marketing labels.
Jim Sipes received a master’s degree in agronomy from Kansas State University and returned home to Stanton County. He is the fourth generation to work the ground alongside his uncle and father. Sipes also represents the Kansas Farm Bureau’s Ninth District on the state board of directors.