What’s in a label? Everything

May 14th, 2010

Editorial

Source: Capital Press (link no longer available)

In the fabled balcony scene, Juliet asks Romeo to reject his name.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Oh, fair Juliet, a name is everything when you’re trying to sell a product or protect a brand, be it roses, yogurt or organic ginger cookies.

That sums up the arguments of two advocacy groups who say words have meaning and convey images and, in separate complaints, want federal agencies to protect their franchises.

The National Milk Producers Federation has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on the misappropriation of dairy terminology on imitation milk products.

NMPF contends in its petition that not only have terms like “soy milk” continued to proliferate, but other dairy-specific terms like “yogurt,” “cheese” and “ice cream” are now being used for products made from non-dairy ingredients.

Beth Briczinski, director of food and nutrition for NMPF, said that she was aware of such items as soy milk, almond milk and rice milk, but found a plethora of other products claiming the milk label, such as “milk” made from potatoes, peanuts and peas.

“If you can grow it and put it in a blender, you can take what comes out of it and call it milk,” she said. “It’s gotten so pervasive and so ridiculous.”

In a separate complaint, Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based organic watchdog and advocacy group, wants the USDA to crack down on food companies that use the word “organic” on their packaging, but whose products fail to meet the statutory standard required for use of the label.

Cornucopia filed complaints with the USDA’s National Organic Program and the Federal Trade Commission highlighting what it calls labeling improprieties in three food brands. While the companies market some legitimately labeled organic products, Cornucopia says, some products labeled as “organic” contain only 70 percent organic ingredients while others have no certified organic components.

“Current organic standards specify that processed foods that are represented as organic must contain 95 to 100 percent organically produced raw or processed agricultural products,” said Charlotte Vallaeys, farm and food policy analyst at Cornucopia. “The only minor ingredients allowed that are not certified organic must be unavailable in organic form and approved by the National Organic Standards Board.”

Dairymen know that milk doesn’t come from plants, and producers who work hard to meet organic certification standards understand how important that identification on a label is to consumers.

We have to agree. Dairy farmers and organic growers each have valuable brands that should be protected. Substitutes and pretenders shouldn’t get a free ride. As wholesome and tasty as these products may be, they should not in any way represent themselves to be something they are not.

If “tofu frozen dessert” isn’t as appetizing as “tofu ice cream,” that’s too bad. If discerning consumers pass over processed foods bearing the less-desirable “made with organics” label in favor of the genuine article, so be it.

With deference to William Shakespeare’s prose, there’s a bit of Texas wisdom that says you can put your boots in the oven, but that don’t make them biscuits. Putting a picture of a cow on the carton doesn’t make soybean juice milk.

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