Feature post Nutrition Wellness

Clean Label Project sets a higher bar for product safety 

Nonprofit makes product safety its mission 

The Clean Label Project  is a national nonprofit with a mission to bring truth and transparency to consumer product labeling. It believes that sometimes what’s NOT on a label is what matters most. Even still the long-term threat of several illnesses linked to industrial and environmental contaminant exposure go largely unnoticed, untested, and therefore unregulated in food and consumer products, until now. 

Through data, science, and benchmarking, Clean Label Project uses retail sampling and testing to examine levels of contaminants in America’s best-selling food and consumer products. Clean Label Project acknowledges high-performing progressive brands with the coveted evidence-based “Clean Label Project Purity Award” to reward voluntary proactive commitment to ingredient quality and purity.  We believe that the power of transparency and consumer awareness can change the status quo. Clean Label Project tests everything from baby food and protein powders to nut butters, cooking oils, sunscreens and pet food. 

Just because a brand of food is labeled organic doesn’t guarantee that it’s a clean- ingredient product. In fact, Clean Label Project found that over 80 percent of the USDA-Certified Organic labeled baby food products it tested contained more than twice the arsenic levels of conventional baby foods.

 

Packaging Label Claims 

Let’s start with nutrition and ingredient labels, which are often misleading, as this Crispy Green study points out. “What’s on your Label?”  can help you decode nutrition facts labels, which are often a source of confusion.  Now consider those added package label claims: Certified organic, Non-GMO, Gluten-free, are just a few of the labels important to public and environmental health. However, there’s growing concern about dietary exposure to industrial and environmental contaminants, toxins, and chemicals of concern. Clean Label Project sees this regularly play out in the media. While these products are largely compliant in the court of law, it’s unclear how much consumers change their purchasing decisions based on the court rulings.

Exposure to metals and toxins often overlooked

Consumers are increasingly concerned about how a variety of exposures contribute to long-term chronic disease. The reality is that American food safe regulations focus on pathogen and microbiological contaminants. That means that you hear mostly about food poisonings like E.coli, salmonella, and listeria in salad mix or burrito restaurant recalls. These contaminants are linked to vomiting and diarrhea and sometimes worse. 

It’s clear that the severity of these contaminants and their public health consequences are a serious matter. But so are the health consequences associated with chronic daily exposure to heavy metals, which are known carcinogens and plasticizers. Here’s the the difference:  With microbiological dietary exposures, you likely have symptoms within a short period of time and can seek care. With exposure to heavy metals, pesticides, and plasticizer exposure, it can take years, sometimes decades for the low-level exposure to manifest itself into chronic disease. 

Clean Label purchased leading brands of protein powders, many labeled organic, and found several brands contained toxins.

 

Consumers getting savvy to food safety and labels 

Here’s the good news. When it comes to food and consumer product safety, change is in the air. The best part is that consumers are making it happen. They are reading labels, arming themselves with information and voting with their dollars. They are embracing a new role as arbiters of truth and safety. Consumers have a right to know what’s in products they buy for themselves and their families. The Clean Label Project is thrilled and humbled to be part of the revolution.

Together, we are changing the definition of food and consumer product safety in America. 

 

–Jaclyn Bowen, MPH, MS

Jaclyn is Executive Director of the nonprofit Clean Label Project