- The parmesan cheese labeling debacle uncovered in a recent Bloomberg report has shed light on mislabeling issues across the food industry in addition to problems with the sometimes vague guidelines that are meant to prevent such issues.
- One cheese maker told Bloomberg that he believed 20% of Italian hard cheeses in the U.S. were mislabeled, which includes cheeses that contain significant amounts of ingredients like cellulose, which is not clearly regulated, or other kinds of cheeses. These types of substitutions can save manufacturers money on ingredient and production costs but come at the risk of losing consumer trust if discovered.
- Similar labeling issues have recently surfaced regarding the olive oil industry, as olive oil is reportedly often adulterated and the FDA does not inspect it.
Any manufacturer that uses these relatively common ingredients will have to be wary. Manufacturers may switch suppliers, which could incur additional costs. But more importantly, these incidents rattle consumers' trust in the food industry as a whole.
The FDA certainly plays a role in this, and the industry is seeing the agency take steps toward creating better definitions for labeling terms that consumers might find misleading. If the FDA can get a better handle on certain definitions and regulations that most concern consumers today, this could prevent or deter certain manufacturers from being able to "get away with" purposeful mislabeling and could "level the playing field" for all manufacturers, Karen Duester, president and founder of Food Consulting Company, told Food Dive last month.
Food and beverage labels play dual roles: They inform the consumer about what the product contains, and they are an advertising tool for manufacturers. If the roles are not balanced, consumers can feel misled and issues of litigation or a damaged company reputation could result. Or, manufacturers' sales could suffer because they can't make their products stand out from competitors. That's why transparency is so important for labeling decisions, because it helps protect that delicate balance between meeting consumers' and manufacturers' needs on one label.