Consumers want to know where their food comes from, what's in it, and what was done to it before it hit the store, according to a telephone survey of 1,001 adults conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center in October 2008. At least three-quarters of the respondents strongly agreed that food labels should be required or, in some cases, allowed to provide the following information. We agree.
Whether beef has been tested for mad-cow disease by manufacturers. The Department of Agriculture tests only one-tenth of 1 percent of slaughtered cattle for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad-cow disease). Yet the agency prohibits meatpacking companies from testing and labeling on their own, even though they would use the same rapid test kit used by the agency. We think that's unreasonable.
The country of origin of processed or packaged foods. The USDA recently extended Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) to all meats, fish, poultry, and produce sold in retail stores. That makes it easier to buy food from trusted locations and to avoid foods from certain areas if a safety problem is identified. Unfortunately, meat and fish from butcher shops and fish markets are exempt from the labeling law, as are processed foods, including dried fruits, and mixtures, such as packaged salads and trail mixes.
Whether food products are made from genetically engineered or cloned animals. The Food and Drug Administration does not require such labeling on the engineered plant foods already available. And it does not plan to label meat from genetically engineered animals, which will be hitting the market soon, or from clones, which are probably already here. We think people should know if their meat contains material from entirely different species—mouse genes, for example, in your pork chops. And they should know if their meat or dairy products come from cloned animals.
Whether meat has been treated with carbon monoxide. Meats treated with the gas can look fresh well past the point of spoilage, according to a 2006 Consumer Reports test of ground beef and steak. On some products, labeling alerts consumers not to use color as a guide to freshness, but often carbon monoxide-treated meat is not labeled.
Whether milk and milk products were produced from animals raised without artificial growth hormones. Several states are considering laws to prohibit dairies from labeling their milk "No rbGH." We think those laws are a bad idea. That growth hormone increases milk output but also increases udder infections in cows and levels of insulin-like growth factor-1(IGF-1) in milk. IGF-1 stimulates tumor growth, but whether there is enough in milk to affect human health is unclear.