Product Labelling: An Exercise in Corporate Obfuscation

by MaxPower

In the 1990’s the labelling of food products underwent a dramatic change which can be traced back to two main factors. 1 – the rise of the anti-Genetically Modified Organism campaign and 2 – the intensification of the US style ‘lawsuit’ culture. Most people may have only noticed a slight change in their food’s packaging, nothing to r4nt about that’s for sure. However, in some cases there are more serious ramifications behind the labelling of a product – point in case labelling for persons with allergies to a certain food product.

The Rise of the Anti-Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) campaign has lead to the increased ‘transparency’ in packaging of goods, for example – warning messages on packages such as ‘This product contains gluten’ – ohhh good: gluten. Most of the people behind this movement can be categorized broadly and with a huge amount of stereotyping as people who are either health nuts, sorry ‘health food practitioners’, or anti-globalization protesters who believe big corporations and/or governments are trying to kill them to make a profit.

A)’Health Food Practitioners‘- you know the type, they have to eat organic food because its ‘good for you’ and one must know what goes into the food they eat. They are the same people who drink Evian water because that’s good for you too, and also enjoy the many health benefits of smoking. I’m not talking here about the people who enjoy organic carrots or whatever, rather those people for which this is a total life style, a paradigm by which they live their life. Everything MUST be organic, whatever that means. Organic food has become such a big business today that the food is mass produced, grown on huge farms and packaged in factories like any other product. Do you really know what goes into it? No. If you are a serious organic food lifestyle practitioner, then grow your own food, it’s the only way to know what you are getting. Plus this whole organic thing has gone too far, just a few days ago, I read a review in a paper about ‘Organic Wine’ which has less sulphur dioxide levels than normal wine! And that’s not all, you can also buy Organic Cola here in the UK at almost double the cost of normal coke. Now I guess Coke starts off at some stage with a cocoa bean, but do your REALLY need the chemicals and sugar in it to be organic? You’d think that people who were concerned enough about their health to buy organic food wouldn’t drink coke at all. And that’s still not all, this really doesn’t have to do with GMO’s or labelling but did you know that you can now buy the first vegan condom? This is the ad: ‘Vegans rejoice. Now you can keep your conscience clean while getting intimate with the first brand of condoms that doesn’t include casein!’ – London Metro Jan 22/02. For those of us who obviously have no conscience, casein is a milk by-product, or so the ad helpfully points out. It just ALL backs my theory that there are ‘health food practitioners’ whom will buy anything with organic on the label.

B) Paranoid anti-GMO protestors – now this is the meat behind the movement, people who think that the government is including chemicals that do such things as cause sterility, cancer or even dish out birth control. Now I know what you’re thinking, all wackos right? Yeah you’re right, total grade A certifiable ‘respectful anti-genetic movement practitioners’.

Here is an excerpt of the hilarity:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A California public interest group has sued Starbucks Corp., claiming that America’s largest coffee retailer secretly spikes its Tazo Chai Tea with ephedrine.

Come on, really? Why would a company risk a massive lawsuit to spike some tea? Probably to make it addicitve, must drink Starbucks novelty Chinese tea…

Anyway back when I was in University, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture from a biochemist on the safety of genetically modified crops. In the middle of her lecture this ‘crazy’ (sorry I don’t know how else to put it) woman stands up and starts yelling at this biochemist PhD professor that all of the chemicals that go into our food are really just put in there so the government can distribute cancer causing and birth control giving agents to the population. Why? Not quite sure, but obviously reason, facts or common sense had little to do with this woman’s argument. She had to be physically restrained and pulled from the seminar. I was laughing my face off it was hilarious.

But not all anti-GMO protestors are harmless and entertaining people disrupting university lectures. Many large supermarket chains now proudly claim ‘no GMO food in our products’; so obviously lobbies have been an effective tool – more effective than the more hyped and even less substance based anti-globalization protestors. But what is a genetically modified organism? Well I’ve seen strawberries the size of your fist – probably not ‘real’ but still damn good. However, look at wheat, almost all strains of wheat grown in Canada have been genetically modified through plant cutting/splicing numerous times so that they better resist the cold and suit the Canadian climate. Do these non-GMO goods exclude these types of wheat, most likely not as there is no differentiation between modified and ‘real’ wheat. Genetically modifying plants is not a new idea, it had been going on since the advent of agriculture 4000 years ago.

All of these people have given rise to the increasing amount of labelling we see on our everyday goods, its an idiots guide to the supermarket. Here in the UK this type of labelling is rampant. Buy chips – it says contains potatoes, buy chocolate chip cookies – it says contains wheat and milk products. Yeah thanks for that, how incredibly useless. Like the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit, a guy burned himself on the coffee, won millions for his stupidity and now all McDonald’s coffee cups say ‘Warning: Coffee is extremely hot!’

But my biggest R4nt with the neo-packages is that EVERYTHING says ‘May contain nuts’. So look I’m in serious trouble if I eat a nut, or a part of a nut, but am I going to avoid everything that says ‘May contain nuts’ on the package? No. Why? Cause if I did I’d be eating oranges, tofu and fresh fish. Next time you’re in your local store look at the packaged products, most have ‘May contain nuts’. Why do they have this warning? Because these products are produced at a factory that is in a 10-mile radius of another factory in which nuts at some point in time have been present on the packaging floor. Examples; any chocolate bar (so much so that I avoid them now), any type of cookies, all cereals (Cheerios – yup ‘not suitable for nut allergy suffers’), chips, all bread products, all pre-packaged desserts, ice cream, dried and fresh pasta etc and etc. So what does a nut allergy suffer do? I should know, you look at the ingredients if it says no nuts, eat it, if it has a nut in it then don’t.

This is the underlying problem, in the quest to package goods with more transparency so that people can ‘see’ what they are eating, the food industry has created a monster. Now I ignore all warnings, because 98% of the goods that have the warning do not have nuts intrinsic to the recipe. So if its not helping me the allergy suffer whom is it helping? The people who want full disclosure from the food companies and the food companies themselves, who don’t want me suing their ass if I get sick and they don’t have neon pink sign saying THERE ARE NUTS IN THIS FOOL. And this takes me to American style lawsuit culture.

Back in the day, when I still ate those little mini chocolates that you get from Purdy’s, or Laura Secords, I ate a chocolate that had a piece of a nut in it. Whereas the little diagram that they give out in the boxes to explain what is in each chocolate assured me it was milk chocolate. I ended up in the hospital for a couple days, should have sued but didn’t cause I’m Canadian. Obviously some Americans did, as now every box has huge warning signs. Is this for the good of the allergy sufferer, yeah I guess, but more along the lines of the companies covering their collective asses. Same thing with the tobacco lawsuits that are cropping up, people suing the tobacco companies for them selling the product. Yeah, you couldn’t tell that smoking was bad for you? Thought coughing up a lung was normal? You don’t deserve a dime. Neither do you McDonald’s boy.

By that logic, I am going to sue a car manufacturer for not having a big sign in black and yellow saying: Warning if you drive too fast in icy conditions and roll the car, you can die. Oh wait they have those on the back side of the sun reflectors…

  • Product Labelling: An Exercise in Corporate Obfuscation
  • by MaxPower
  • Published on February 1st, 2002

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