As you walk through the grocery store, it’s not uncommon to pick up a product — say a carton of eggs, for example— and see that the package is plastered with an abundance of labels bearing various terms and certifications, all calling for your attention: Organic! Cage-Free! Non-GMO! All Natural!
But what do these certifications actually mean? Do they make guarantees to the consumer or are they just marketing ploys?
It depends.There are dozens of both independent and government-regulated certification stamps decorating food products in our grocery stores. The fact is anyone can set up a group with its own logo and offer to put it on foods. And some food labeling words that have no concrete definition or legal meaning (I’m looking at you, “all-natural”).
To illustrate consumer confusion, the author of a recent NPR story stood outside a Whole Foods store in Washington D.C. and asked consumers if they'd rather buy a carton of eggs labeled "non-GMO" and another tagged "certified organic." They were torn. As one customer put it, “They both sound good;” then she chose to purchase the non-GMO product over the certified organic product, solely because it was cheaper. As it happens, certified organic foods generally are indeed more expensive — but all certified organic foods are, by definition, non-GMO, while non-GMO foods don't need to be organic.
Are consumers being purposely misled, then, or are we just uninformed? The latter would be understandable considering the sheer number of labels out there; click here for help in deciphering some of the most important of them.