3 Common Scams the Food Industry Uses to Hide Counterfeit Foods
The food industry scams its customers on a daily basis. The quicker you realize this, the faster you’ll start to learn just which foods to look out for and how you can improve your diet.
Author of the book Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do About It, Larry Olmsted, is a food journalist that explains how you are being fooled every day by the food industry. Olmsted has researched the approach that the food industry takes to food labeling and marketing. He is of the opinion that people are being fooled more often than they realize:
“Some of the adulteration — when they cut olive oil with other oils or substances, they cut honey with corn syrup — that is a violation of the law. But a lot of it is labeling issues that are unregulated. Like ‘natural’ would be the perfect example. You could slap ‘natural’ on pretty much any food product. It’s meaningless.”
Let’s take a look at three common misconceptions used by the food industry to scam customers.
1. Seafood Is Healthy
Most people think that seafood is healthy. Yet, questionable food quality and fraud is common in this food segment. The first thought that comes to mind when it comes to seafood contamination is mercury, but the problem is much more far-reaching.
“Ninety-one percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported and current FDA law mandates that just two percent of that be inspected every year.” (source)
This leaves a lot of room for fakery.
In his book, Olmsted discusses a 2012 study of New York City seafood done by scientists at Oceana, a nonprofit advocacy group, which tested seafood authenticity using DNA. They discovered fakes at 58% of 81 stores sampled and at all of the 16 sushi restaurants studied. Many sushi varieties you think you are eating are substituted with easier to obtain fish. For example, the Oceana study found that only about 6% of red snapper sold was real red snapper, while the remaining 94% were other types of fish such as tilefish or tilapia.
Speaking of tilapia, it is one of the most common farm-raised fish purchased in the U.S., often imported from China, which is the world’s largest producer. These farms suffer from water pollution and often overuse chemicals and antibiotics. These details are never revealed on seafood packaging. In natural ponds used to raise tilapia, shrimp and other fish, also a big food segment in China, industry secrets include contamination by sewage, industrial waste and agricultural runoff.
Unless you are buying seafood that has been certified for its authenticity, as for example with the logo “Alaska Seafood: Wild, Natural, Sustainable,” you may be getting less than you bargained for. Everyone has been so focused on questionable practices in cattle factory farming, but just as many chemicals and antibiotics can be present in seafood.
2. Gourmet or ‘Natural’ Foods Assure Quality
The gourmet food sector, encompassing foods such as specialty meats, cheeses, oils, etc., brings in about $1 billion in revenues in the U.S. alone. Are the foods in this sector really worth the higher prices? Do they offer a higher quality and more complex taste?
The gourmet label is one best tricks of food marketers. Just as with the word ‘natural’ so often used on food packaging, putting ‘gourmet’ on food labels, or adding some type of ‘quality seal’, plays on the buyer’s subconscious mind. It indicates that the product has met some form of certification criteria. These tricks are used on labels to justify higher prices, but usually there is no certification or higher quality.
Many labeling tricks are used by food producers to justify premium prices. Colors are used to influence perceptions, i.e. the color green is associated with healthy. Claims about reduced unhealthy ingredients such as sodium, fat, or sugar are used to make foods appear better. Misleading brand names, such as “Healthy Choice” or “Go Natural,” are used to appeal to health-conscious people. All these foods, regardless of what’s on the label, are typically still filled with chemical additives just like any mainstream alternative.
Misleading labels are one of the biggest food industry scams ever. You have to read the ingredients to establish which brands can be trusted.
3. The Basics Are Difficult to Ruin
Basic staple foods cannot possibly be fake. Or can they? Olive oil, honey, maple syrup, rice, coffee, etc. Most of us don’t think twice before buying these foods because, really, how is it possible to ruin the basics? Come to find out, many basic foods imported in bulk, or mass-produced, could be considered counterfeit foods.
Olive oil is a good example. Mass imports often contain additives such as soybean and peanut oils. In 1981, there was even a big controversy about Spanish olive oil being mixed with aniline, a chemical used in making plastic. The problem is that these additives are never listed. Anyone can label their product as ‘pure,’ and no one is checking for fraud. Don’t take olive oil for granted. Look for certifications such as “COOC Certified Extra Virgin” or the international EVA and UNAPROL labels.
Maple syrup and honey are another great example. Most grocery store shelves have more fake honey and fake maple syrup, mixed with or made up entirely of sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, than the real stuff. Always read the labels and, if available, buy the organic versions of these products.
Another example, sadly, is coffee. Unscrupulous producers may dump fillers such as corn, soybeans, barley, triticale, wheat, rye, brown sugar, rice or even twigs into ground coffee. If you want to be sure that you are drinking the real deal, buy whole beans rather than ground coffee.
How to Overcome Food Industry Scams
Do not be discouraged. Real food is readily available if you are willing to look outside of the mainstream food environment. You need to explore your local farmer’s markets and find trustworthy certification programs. To find out how to identify real food, check out the sources below, as well as Larry Olmsted’s Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do About It.
Read more articles from Anna Hunt.
About the Author
Anna Hunt is writer, yoga instructor, mother of three, and lover of healthy food. She’s the founder of Awareness Junkie, an online community paving the way for better health and personal transformation. She’s also the co-editor at Waking Times, where she writes about optimal health and wellness. Anna spent 6 years in Costa Rica as a teacher of Hatha and therapeutic yoga. She now teaches at Asheville Yoga Center and is pursuing her Yoga Therapy certification. During her free time, you’ll find her on the mat or in the kitchen, creating new kid-friendly superfood recipes.
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