How sure are you of the food you eat? This is probably a question you ask passing by street vendors, but not so much in a supermarket, where you’ve got groceries that list down their ingredients meticulously and contain labels that show not only nutritional value but also where they’re manufactured.

Indeed, food labeling is important. In a time where food imports and exports have become the norm, labels can help track what’s in the food you purchase and where it’s from, but sometimes, there’s no surefire way for the everyday consumer to see if what’s written on the packaging reflects what’s actually in the product. This could lead to dire consequences.

Limitations

Laws and regulations like the Consumer Act of the Philippines have been around since 1992. But do these regulations really lessen ambiguity? Grace Lebria, Programme Manager for the Philippine Center for Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development (PCEPSDI), notes for instance how some brands place logos of non-government organizations (NGOs) to show their support for the advocacy, even if their products don’t necessarily reflect the advocacy itself.

“Ang daming nagsasabi na ‘energy saver,’ ‘non-polluting,’[…] yung mga iba may mga ‘the company supports this community’ because they have this program, yung mga ganun,” she says. “Nag-CSR sila, sumusuporta sila sa WWF […] which is good, ‘di ba? But when they start adding the organization logos to their products, ibang story na ‘yan. [It] doesn’t mean that their product is better, or environmentally-friendly, it just means that they support this organization.” That said, it becomes evident that even current labeling policies have their share of loopholes. In a way, there is a danger for packaging to become mere padding in order to make the product more appealing to the customer.

A Standard of Quality

While early food labeling was meant to identify the seller and ensure fair pricing, the emergence of modern food labeling came at a time when it became harder for the consumer to monitor the product’s quality at purchase.

Food labels then became a way for consumers to gauge which products were of better quality, and which products should be kept away from. Branded products during that age were particularly patronized since consumers could associate their experience to the brand; whereas it was harder to gauge for generic products.

These standards eventually developed into the food labels we know today, shaped by years of food safety concerns and technological development. Organizations like the PCEPSDI, for instance, have their own initiatives to ensure that the product labels are credible, and not misleading. The NGO serves as the administrator for the National Ecolabelling Programme-Green Choice Philippines (NELP-GCP), which is responsible for awarding the Green Choice Seal of Approval to products that are environmentally preferable and non-hazardous to human health.

Handling misuse of advocacy logos

 Part of the program aims to lessen such misuse of advocacy logos–particularly environmental advocacies–by looking at the products through all aspects of production. Only when it has passed the ecolabelling criteria in all aspects can it be awarded the Green Choice Seal of Approval, certifying that it is safe for the environment and human consumption.

The pros outweigh the cons

Indeed, food labeling has its fair share of limitations. And in light of modern times, some of its limitations may appear unforgivable. But if there’s anything one could appreciate about it, it’s that it has given a voice to its consumers to speak out, to echo these concerns–whether it be food safety, or knowing that the food you eat is of excellent quality.

Before dismissing food labels as faulty or irrelevant, think back–why are they even here in the first place?