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Truth in food labels still needs some work

Posted on March 1, 2017 by Lethbridge Sun Times

If you regularly check the ingredients listed on the food products you buy, but have doubts about the accuracy of the information, you’re not alone.
According to a new study by Dalhousie University, 63 per cent of Canadians are worried that food labelling doesn’t accurately reflect the actual content of the food. For people with food allergies, there’s good reason to be concerned.
This practice of mislabelling, or “food fraud,” is “the big elephant in the room,” Sylvain Charlebois, the study’s lead researcher, said in a story by The Canadian Press.
But the veracity of food labelling information is crucial for people with food allergies, said Beatrice Povolo, the director of advocacy and media relations for Food Allergy Canada.
“They count on that to be accurate and truthful and complete in order for them to make a decision of whether that would be a suitable product or not,” Povolo said.
The problem is, it isn’t always accurate and truthful and complete. It’s an ongoing issue, one the Canadian Food Inspection Agency monitors and investigates. The Canadian Press story notes that, in the case of olive oil, CFIA testing in 2006 and 2007 found that more than 45 per cent of tested samples did not meet the product’s criteria. That number had declined to about 30 per cent by 2012 and 2013, but that’s still too much.
There’s a financial motivation behind the practice of mislabelling. It’s often done to increase the price a product can be sold for, or to decrease the cost of making it. Olive oil, for example, is sometimes diluted using peanut oil or soy oil, both of which are allergens.
When allergens find their way into food products but aren’t identified on the labels, that can spell trouble for people with severe allergies. Even in cases which don’t involve potential allergens, if food products don’t contain the ingredients in the amounts listed on the labels, the people buying those products are being misled.
Larry Olmsted, the author of “Real Food Fake Food,” advises that by purchasing products that are less processed and closer to their natural state, people will be less likely to encounter unexpected ingredients.
The CFIA also has an important role to play, by closely monitoring food labelling practices to try to prevent food fraud from taking place. Admittedly, that’s a big job, but perhaps the task can be aided by enforcing stiffer punishments for companies whose products are not truthfully labelled.
Mislabelled food products can be potentially hazardous for people with food allergies. Even when allergies aren’t an issue, people should be receiving what they’re paying for in terms of food content.

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