Supermarkets cash in on unfounded fears about food and health

Earthbound Farm senior vice president Will Daniels told the Baltimore Food Safety Summit that food safety should not be a competitive advantage, and to prove that, Earthbound Farm plans to open its wash line and facilities to competitors.

But that does nothing for consumers, the schleps who go buy bagged lettuce at the supermarket.

Food safety should be marketed at retail; it’s the only way consumers can lettuce.skull.norosupport those producers who pay more attention to food safety than the others.

Instead, what dominates at retail is negative marketing.

The Guardian asks, Do I choose the product that is “free from artificial sweetener” or has “no MSG”? What about the one that “contains no GM” or is “paraben-free”?

But these are false choices: supermarkets are misinforming their customers about health risks. There is no scientific evidence to support rumors about adverse health effects from the flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG), or from foods containing material from plants that were genetically modified, or from the sweetener aspartame, or from parabens, which are used to preserve toiletries.

By marketing products as “free from” supermarkets are playing on people’s fears, which are based on the rumors that have circulated about these substances.

Frustrated by this cynical marketing, a group of junior researchers that I coordinate (the Voice of Young Science network) wrote an open letter calling on supermarkets to stop misleading customers and review their negative claim policies.

Good for them.

Negative marketing by supermarkets based on unsubstantiated concerns exploits people’s attempts to choose healthy products, even pushing them towards alternatives that may not be good for them. It undermines our efforts to help people make sense of stories about food. Products and policies based on evidence are vital to give customers a real, informed choice. Supermarkets need to promote evidence not unfounded fears.

And for all the food safety types racking up frequent flyer miles and talking at endless meetings, do something substantive: market microbial food safety at retail.