New campaign aims to educate, tackle ‘fear-based’ labeling on grocery products

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MILWAUKEE — A dairy industry group with strong ties to Wisconsin has added more examples to its list of what the group says is “fear-based” food labeling.

The latest examples range from “non-GMO” labels on products for which no genetically modified version exists to “no added hormone” labels on poultry products when the addition of hormones is already prohibited by federal law.

Some food companies have turned to “fear-based” labeling that plays on the fears of things such as GMO products, synthetic animal-growth hormones and high fructose corn syrup, the National Milk Producers Federation says about its “Peel Back the Label” campaign.

The dairy industry trade group, based in Arlington, Va., says nearly 70 percent of American consumers look to food labels when making purchase decisions, but that some of the information is misleading.

For instance, one company has labeled its table salt as “GMO-free,” when it could never have been GMO in the first place because salt has no genes to modify.

Some of the new examples cited by the Peel Back the Label campaign this month include canned sliced carrots with “non-GMO” labels, when there’s no such thing as a genetically modified carrot; a “GMO-free” label on lettuce, when there is no genetically modified lettuce of any type; and a “no added hormones” label on chicken from Tyson Foods, when it’s illegal to sell poultry in the United States that was raised with added hormones.

Similar marketing practices have taken place with dairy products, according to the National Milk Producers Federation, which says it represents about 70 percent of Wisconsin’s dairy farms through farm cooperatives and individual memberships.

“The deceptive labels and fear-based marketing increasingly used by some food manufacturers damages consumer trust and jeopardizes the safe, sustainable farming practices that have enhanced farm productivity over the last 20 years,” said Jim Mulhern, federation president.

“Fear shouldn’t be a factor when consumers are grocery shopping. Trying to scare people into buying a product over unfounded fears is irresponsible marketing,” Mulhern said.