Globally, consumers ‘confused’ about food labels and claims, says study

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: iStock/Highwaystarz-Photography
Photo: iStock/Highwaystarz-Photography

Related tags Agriculture

A new survey found that there was disconnect between what consumers think labels like organic, antibiotic-free, or ‘no added hormones’ mean, and what the labels actually mean.

The survey was commissioned by The Enough Movement​, an initiative to “raise awareness about the growing challenge of food security”​ within global animal pharmaceutical corporation Elanco​.

It’s part of a wave of similar surveys conducted by large agricultural chemical companies recently to gauge how consumer understanding of the food system drives purchase decisions, such as one commissioned by Cargill to highlight what consumers in Brazil and the US think about antibiotics in meat​, and another by Delanco to see what younger US consumers think about plant-based feed additives​.

In this particular study, titled Truth About Food: The Data​, surveyed 3,337 urban consumers in 11 countries, including countries in the Americas like Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and the US, as well as European countries France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, and the UK.

Popular misunderstandings between label and consumer perception include labels on organic, hormones, antibiotics, and local production. Additionally, the report gauged consumer understanding on modern agriculture, choosing a healthy diet, and reducing food waste.

Organic: A majority of consumers think organic means chemical and pesticide free

Globally, 82% of respondents said they think an organic seal means the product is chemical/pesticide free, 75% think organic means the product is safer, 68% said it means it’s better for the environment, and 67% said it’s more nutritious.

However, organic requirements generally allow chemical sprays and powders derived from natural sources, such as boron or copper sulfate “similar to the synthetic versions used in modern farming,” ​the report said.

The report goes on to draw secondary data on the benefits in non-organic farming, such as using less land for higher yields.

‘No added hormones’: More than half of consumers think it means there are no hormones at all

Survey results also found misconception around what hormone related claims mean—61% of respondents believed that ‘no added hormones' mean there are no hormones at all in meat or milk.

“’No added hormones’ doesn’t mean ‘no hormones,’ as hormones naturally occur in all animals,” ​the report said. Additionally, there is a misconception that hormones are used in poultry and pork production, which The Enough Movement argued is not true, because “they don’t work.”

Reducing food waste

A majority of survey respondents said that “reducing food waste [has] the most impact when it comes to providing more nutrition to humans around the world,” ​the report said.

This was followed by developing more local production systems, develop organic farming across the world, improve productivity and efficiency in raising livestock, and replacing animal proteins with plant-based proteins.

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