Are Scannable Bar Codes the Best Solution for GMO labeling?

According to a recent survey, nearly 90 percent of consumers still want to know if they are consuming foods with genetically modified ingredients.

While a clear and concise label on the package seems like a no-brainer, it has been fought at every turn by those who oppose labeling, including the biotech and food industries. These industries have spent millions of dollars to squash grassroots labeling initiatives in California, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado. They also support national bills and policy riders that block a state’s right to label GMOs. And now the Grocery Manufacturers Association–the largest trade group for corporations that make food and beverages–has stepped up to the plate with its own solution for the conundrum of GMO labeling: QR codes.

The new initiative, called SmartLabel™, is a voluntary program that would add a bar code to foods consumers can scan using their smartphone camera to get information about a product. This could include more detailed ingredient information including whether a food contains GMOs. The program is limited, however, because not all companies would participate, nor would they all disclose whether a food contained genetically modified ingredients.

The program is also problematic for a number of other reasons. Do consumers really have the time to scan every item they purchase to find out if it contains GMOs? And what about the people who don’t have a smartphone, such as the elderly or those with lower incomes?

Data from the Pew Research Center reveals that for Americans who make less than $30,000 per year, only half have a smartphone. And for those that have one, 44 percent had to let their smartphone service lapse at some point for financial reasons. For seniors, a mere 27 percent own a smartphone. Thus, is a bar code really an equitable solution if 50 percent of those with a lower income and 72 percent of seniors can’t scan it? That’s about 100 million people who would not have access to the information they need to make an informed decision. Despite what some say, everyone does not win if we use bar codes in place of GMO labeling.

What does make sense? Putting a label right on the package. Even the New York Times Editorial Board recently came out in support of labeling. Americans want transparency and as food politics expert Marion Nestle, PhD, says, “Transparency is always the right thing to do.” The SmartLabel™ bar code would offer limited transparency and discriminate against the elderly and lower income Americans, keeping millions in the dark. It’s clearly not a win-win.

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Copyright 2015 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

Update on Snapea Crisps: Are They Healthy Yet?

by Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

Last year I published a post about Snapea Crisps entitled, Food Labeling Lies: Are Snapea Crisps Healthy?  Interestingly, it has been one of my most popular posts. Since Calbee—the company that created Snapea Crisps—has made some changes, I wanted to post an update on the product.

snapea crisps lightlysaltedCalbee has changed their packaging, their website, and the amount of fat, carbohydrate, and sodium their product contains. They also came out with different flavors for Snapea Crisps such as Caesar, Black Pepper, and Wasabi Ranch. And they now have Lentil Snaps.

But does that make Snapea Crisps healthier? The short answer is no. Here’s why.

snapea crisps lightlysaltedmenutrition

Snapea Crisps now have:

  • 120 calories per ounce instead of 150
  • 6 grams of fat instead of 8
  • 80 mg of sodium instead of 125
  • 15 grams of carbohydrate instead of 14

But, they are still ground up peas, ground up white rice, corn oil, and salt formed into a pea shape and baked and not puffed peas. The bottom line is this product is still a highly processed food! The kind we need to eat less of or avoid entirely. Their website now says, “Inside every bag of Harvest Snaps we combine taste, quality and simplicity.” I would hardly call their complicated creation “simple!” And they certainly are not my idea of  “…snacking the way it should be,” as their site claims.

sugar snap peasInstead, sticking with real and preferably organic foods in their whole form is still your optimal choice for snacks.

Sugar snap peas are a great option. Other snack ideas include:

  • Sugar plum or sweet 100 cherry tomatoes
  • Baby carrots
  • Sliced jicama
  • Sliced red pepper
  • Frozen grapes
  • Watermelon with a squeeze of lime juice
  • Blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries with a little balsamic glaze
  • Unsweetened applesauce with a sprinkle of cinnamon and walnuts
  • Sliced bananas sprinkled with nuts and then frozen
  • Dried apricots, pears, or apples
  • Any veggie with hummus

All of these options are full of nutrients and fiber. And they are not addictive like processed snack foods so you can more easily stop eating them. On the other hand, Snapea Crisps have the right amount of salt and crunch to keep you going back for more, potentially eating the entire bag! It is also easy to overeat Snapea Crisps because they have what Michael Moss, in his New York Times article, calls “vanishing caloric density”. In other words, they melt in your mouth. Foods that do this, like Snapea Crisps or Cheetos, do not make you feel full. This is the reason I, and most of you, can eat the entire bag with its 420 calories and not feel full.

Are they free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms)? Their site says, “Our non-GMO crops are grown and harvested in rich Canadian soils that stretch across the regions of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.” Yet in an email, they told me they test their product periodically (since most corn oil is GMO) and that, “We feel that the presence would be minimal.” So I can’t confirm that they are, in fact, free of GMOs.

Even with the changes to the product, my original advice still stands. Drop the Snapea Crisps and eat real food instead!

For more info, follow me on Twitter:

Copyright © 2013 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

Food Labeling Lies: Are Snapea Crisps Healthy?

By Carole Bartolotto, MA,RD

I think we all know that food manufacturers care more about their bottom line—money—than they do about our health. They will say just about anything to sell their products including manipulating serving sizes and making outrageous claims. Let’s take a look at one example.

If you’ve ever had Snapea Crisps, you’d know they are tasty and they seem to be healthy—at least based on the claims on the packaging. But can these claims be trusted?

The package says it’s a “snack salad” and is “baked.”

On the back it says, “Your Salad Never Got Such a Lift!” and that the company, Calbee, has a “….Mission of delivering the farm fresh goodness of vegetables to your table.”

I checked out their website and it says that, “SnackSalad was developed for the many customers who wish to get the healthy benefits of eating salad and fruit more often, but to do so in a more delicious way.”

All of these claims lead you to believe that you are eating something that is healthy and equivalent to a salad. In fact, this product is often found in the produce section of the market.

I think many people believe that Snapea Crisps are puffed peas. But actually they are ground-up green peas, genetically modified corn oil, white rice, salt, and preservatives, formed into a pea shape, and baked! A review of the Nutrition Facts reveals that 1 ounce of these crisps has 150 calories and 8 grams of fat. The more information I gathered about Snapea Crisps, the less they sounded like a salad. And the more they sounded like a bag of potato chips.

Both Snapea Crisps and Lay’s potato chips have 150 calories, similar grams of fat per ounce, and are highly processed. The difference between Lay’s potato chips and Snapea Crisps is that you know you are eating junk food when you grab a bag of chips. However, many people think they are making a healthy choice if they choose Snapea Crisps.

Is there a better option? Why not try sugar sugar snap peassnap peas? With just 41 calories for an entire cup, you can get a tasty, crunchy, low-calorie snack without any processed carbs, white rice, or calorie dense fat.

The moral of this story is to pay attention to the labels and claims on processed foods. More importantly, stick with whole foods as often as you can. I love Michael Pollan’s quote from his book Food Rules, which certainly applies in this situation.

“If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.

See my update on Snapea Crisps here.

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Copyright © 2012 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.