Mixed Messages: Why Labels Matter

Mixed Messages: Why Labels Matter

Arriving at the Farmer’s Market, I glance around – smiling faces, colorful displays and a chorus of acrobatic-inspired laughter greets me as I arrive. The desire to “Buy Local” taps me on the shoulder and leads me down the aisle to peruse the available products.  Searching for eggs and meat, I begin to wonder what those local animals’ lives were like: Were they fed organic feed free of GMO’s, were they pasture raised or did they live in cages…? And it hits me – I do not know these answers, and reading the packaging, there are few, if any, identifiable labels on these local products. We all want to make ethical, educated purchasing decisions for our families – so how do we choose?

As consumers, we are bombarded everywhere by messages. Product labels tout the ‘natural’ qualities of their caged chicken, bright logos cover packages claiming everything from ‘humane treatment’ to ‘pasture raised’ – many labels with little to no oversight as to how they are used. When we visit a farmer’s market or go to the grocery store, what does “Buy Local” guarantee? I definitely want to support my regional economy and reduce my carbon footprint but those considerations do not address many other aspects of our food system – what about pesticide and Round-Up use, GMO’s, battery cages and more?!

Every time we make a purchasing decision, we are affecting change – daily we vote with our dollar simply by choosing what to buy. While working at Scratch and Peck Feeds, I have seen this awareness impact how we source our ingredients. As we make a decision about our product line and their manufacture, we think about the consequences of our actions, both now and on future generations. When our company was founded, our owner Diana worked hard to be the change she wished to see in our food system, becoming the first feed mill to be Non-GMO Project Verified in 2012, followed by Organic Certification in 2013 – the first feed mill to receive both labels. You see, while ‘Organic Certified’ focuses on how something like corn is produced (i.e. an Organic seed would be grown using Organic approved methods with regulated use of products like Round Up), ‘Non-GMO Verified’ focuses on the end product (i.e. actually testing the corn produced for genetically modified contamination, not for pesticides or chemical use like Round Up). As even Organic grains on the commodity market may come from China or South America, we knew buying regionally and farmer direct would provide more product transparency. With this in mind, Diana knew the best way to help consumers make educated purchasing decisions would be to go the extra mile and have all Scratch and Peck Feeds be both Non-GMO Verified and Organic Certified.

While some say ‘you are what you eat’ – we take it one step further and add ‘you are what your animals eat’. By working directly with farmers wanting to produce high quality Certified Organic grains, we are able to provide better choices for our family and friends, for you the consumer. As Non-GMO Project Executive Director, Megan Westgate, said in her blog, “Growing a Non-GMO Baby”: “If you eat animal products, you are what they eat. Most GMOs grown are used for animal feed. It takes significant commitment and effort to source non-GMO corn and soy, and the Non-GMO Project label is the only third party assurance that feed has been tested for GMOs … For the gold standard in product sourcing, look for the Non-GMO Project Verified label AND the USDA organic label. Although organic products are not tested for GMOs, the organic label is your assurance that rigorous practices have been followed for avoidance of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.”

Across the aisle from my favorite soap maker’s stand, I find a local farm selling eggs with a simple message of “GMO and Soy Free”, no egg carton labels, just a welcoming smile. Striking up a conversation, the excitement builds – to my surprise, not only do they use Scratch and Peck Feeds but we’ve even spoken on the phone! We discuss farming and the future of our food system, leaving well assured that I am making a quality “Buy Local” purchase complete with peace of mind.

–Erin Dewey, local farmer

Learn more about Living Non-GMO.

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