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Food Warning Labels, Essay Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1775

Essay

An American Ethical Dilemma

Food is a vital part of human life and something that is essential to existence. Nutritional warnings can commonly be found on the back of the product; however there is much controversy surrounding the imposed laws. Some suggest that all ingredients and modifications should be clearly advised on any food product, while others suggest that labeling each and every ingredient may cause public alarm. While public alarm could lead to mass outcry and difficulty for food manufacturers, the company still has a moral obligation to ensure that consumers are making informed decisions about their own health. The right belongs to the consumer and their right to know what they are consuming, purchasing and the potential risk that it poses. The purpose of this paper is to examine nutritional labeling and warnings as well as argue that food companies should label all ingredients exactly and put a warning if one of the ingredients is artificial or genetic altered.

The Debate Surrounding Food Labels

The controversy, like any other type of debate is fueled by opposing positions. While both make valid points, it is essential to understand the health and rights of individuals as citizens. Food companies are currently required to detail the ingredients contained in their product as well as the nutritional values. One of the concerns that have not been properly addressed is over genetically modified foods. These ingredients do not contain or have requirements to provide consumer warnings on the food products that they are in. Genetically modified foods, sometimes known as genetically modified organisms are produced from plants and animals that have genetically modified DNA. Currently the Food and Drug Administration does not require warnings for genetically engineered foods (Choi). The FDA does not require the warnings based on the fact that foods are placed through rigorous testing before they are released. Testing does increase the safety of food products, however the public has a right to know what they are purchasing and if it has been modified in any way. Europe requires warnings based on modified foods because of an outbreak of Mad Cow Disease in the late 1980’s (Choi). The public alarm and outcry convinced Europe, like many other countries to begin stringent labeling requirements for all food and ingredients. The United States however is in the minority and lacking in labeling requirements at this time of all ingredients contained in purchased food.

Past Nutritional Labeling

While food labeling guidelines are not new to society they have become more stringent over the past several years. Those that are against food labeling might suggest that even though the labels are in place that American people are still gaining weight. Since one of the purposes of ingredient labeling was to slow the progression of obesity and disease in America. It may seem like a valid claim; however the truth of the matter is the fact that there is a struggle between product manufacturers and labeling rules (Just 50). It has only been in recent years that doctors and other health care providers have begun suggesting to patients that they should monitor their caloric intake and learn more about the nutritional values of food. Perhaps the labeling requirements have not had adequate time to make a maximum impact. Again, it is true that food itself does not make people obese; it is their actions with the food, however without food labeling they have little knowledge of nutritional value or a lack of healthy nutrition. The purpose of food labeling is to allow consumers the ability to make healthier food choices and should be protected for health (Bonsmann et al 14).

Research has shown that because of food labeling, women are more likely to look at the food labels and adhere to healthier portion restrictions (Mandal 516). This assists in weight loss as it makes the individual more conscious about the amount of calories and other ingredients that they are consuming. Obesity has become a highly controversial topic in society as there are numerous health concerns. Parents are teaching their children to read food labels, monitor their caloric intake and become healthier. According to Mandal, obesity causes serious health concerns such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and an increased risk of Dementia (516). Looking back into history and prior to nutritional labels, society was worried about weight gain and improper nutritional intake. Today the goal is the same; however foods that are genetically modified should be addressed as well. There are health concerns that are possible with genetically modified food. If this is not clearly stated on the label, consumers are unable to make an educated decision or choice as to the risk that they are willing to take.

Health Concerns of Genetically Modified Foods

To date there are few studies that assess the health risks of genetically modified foods. By the mere process, foods that have been modified are created with genes and hormones that have potential unpredictable long term health results. According to Pusztai, modified foods may cause bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics, my cause allergies, bleeding disorders and other serious health concerns (280). The issue or problem is not that the food has been genetically altered, it is the fact that American consumers are not made aware of the process, nor the harm that could materialize. The United States was founded on freedoms and the right to have knowledge about their well-being, which is not being served at this time.

Food Company Stance & Concern

Marketing is big business for food product companies. The manner by which food is packaged, slogans are prepared and in some cases the promises of health benefit is typically what draws consumers to the product. Most food product manufacturers disagree with additional food label laws or restrictions. The reason is obviously because they do not wish to skew the consumer’s choices. While this is understandable, it is a health concern that affects all of society.

Monetary gain should not be placed in front of American children’s or adults health. It is estimated that by the year 2015, 2.3 billion people will be overweight with 700 million will be obese (World Health Organization). This is a cause for alarm and food manufacturers, as well as fast food restaurants should be required to detail all ingredients, quantity as well as calories of the product. Along with obesity is the fact that genetically modified food could be causing long term health concerns that consumers are not even made aware of.

Other benefits that are named by food companies for genetically modified foods are pest resistance, better growing, disease resistance and nutrition. By altering the growth pattern of the food or animal, scientists have been able to create a more hearty and viable product. Clearly, pests and insects have always plagued food growers, Mother Nature has caused mass loss and some foods suffer in nutritional value (Whitman 2). Pesticides have long been a concern for both farmers and those eating the foods. No one is arguing that there are not benefits to genetically engineered foods, simply the fact that consumers should be made aware of the fact and process.

It is as simple as placing a warning on the nutritional label of the food detailing the fact that one or more of the ingredients has been modified. The public could then make their own determination about the foods that they purchase and whether or not they wish to eat that particular product.

A Health Conscience Society

With the increased concern for obesity and health, many people are moving to a healthier lifestyle. The right to know is essential and is no different for genetically modified foods than the caloric intake that is already imposed (Whitmann). The cost of labeling and additional disclosures has also been cited in this controversy. While the label could increase the cost of the product, it would likely be less than cents for each product. Like any other cost it could be and probably would be absorbed by the end consumer. The small cost of a warning certainly does not equate to the potential health concerns or lack of consumer education. The cost, however is not the end concern, instead it conceals the concern of public outcry, fear and boycotting of products. Food companies would be unable to make the profit that they are accustom too, therefore they push for stagnate laws as well as guidelines. By doing so they are defeating the purpose of public information and safety. While the disclosure could create some concern, the public would be better informed and likely develop the understanding that there are benefits of genetically modified foods as well as some risks. The concern is the lack of information, not the product itself, which continues this heated debate.

In conclusion, public policy and right to information should supersede any for Profit Company or product. Addressing the concern for public panic or discord, one should remember that there are a number of products that are not good for citizens, yet they continue to purchase them. Items such as cigarettes and alcohol clearly have a warning of the negative health effects and medical concerns that they pose, yet they are leading financial sellers. Candy, fast food and high calorie foods are still very popular among the American people, yet they are required to accurately and clearly label each ingredient. Regardless of the problems or potential harm that a product causes, food companies must be held accountable for providing information to the public. If properly labeled, consumers would be responsible for their own actions and it would decrease the amount of liability that food companies have. It is about the choice and right to know of the public that is at the heart of the debate of this controversy. It is important that consumers be able to make the most informed decision possible, without any information being withheld. In order to rectify the concern or problem, each and every ingredient should be noted in its entirety as well as genetically manufactured products, so the buyer can decide for themselves.

Works Cited

Bonsmann, S. Storcksdieck genannt, L. Fernández Celemín, and K. G. Grunert. “Food Labeling To Advance Better Education For Life.” European Journal Of Clinical Nutrition 64.(2010): 14-19.

Choi, C. “Ensnared in a web of arguments: Genetically Modified food stirs active debate”. Medill Reports, Northwestern University. (2012).

Mandal, Bidish. “Use Of Food Labels As A Weight Loss Behavior.” Journal Of Consumer  Affairs 44.3 (2010): 516-527.

Just, David R., and Collin R. Payne. “Obesity: Can Behavioral Economics Help?.” Annals Of  Behavioral Medicine 38.(2009): 47-55.

Pusztai, Alia. The need for rigorous risk assessment. Chemistry & Industry 8, 280. (2000) Whitman, Deborah. “Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?” Web: 2 March 2012 [http://www.csa.com/discoveryguides/gmfood/review.pdf]

World Health Organization. Obesity and overweight. Web: 2 March 2012 [http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/index.html/.]

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