A recent scandal to hit the UK was the revelation of beef meat products containing horse meat (BBC News, 2013). Many arguments have been raised in relation to this, some ask why is this such a great problem, horse meat is a high quality meat eaten worldwide (Prescott, 2013).
The issue here is that consumers were not aware they were consuming horse meat. It is unethical as consumers were unable to make the choice themselves as to whether they wanted to eat the meat of a horse, and instead were only informed afterwards.
While in this case the companies labeling the products were not aware of the contamination, the mislabeling of genetically modified (GM) products and those containing monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a far more serious breach of ethics.
Since 2004 it has been ruled by the European Union that foodstuffs containing GM ingredients must be labelled as such (FSA, 2013) following aggressive campaigning through the 1990’s against ‘Frankenfoods’. However in 2010 it came to light that supermarkets were selling meat reared on GM crops and not declaring this (Gray, 2010). It was argued that it was unnecessary to indicate where GM crops were included as part of the food chain, as this did not pose a risk to consumers as the GM food would be digested by the animal.
In comment to this, Michael Meacher former Labour environment minister stated:
“This is a significant health and environmental issue and people are entitled to know, not have it foisted upon them” (Gray, 2011).
An interesting document in relation to this is the report by the Soil Association relating to the ‘silent’ introduction of GM crops.
As with the horse-meat scandal, the ethical issue present here is the removal of the consumer choice. Those choosing to avoid GM crops for environmental or health reasons are having that right of choice taken from them.
Again as with graphic design there is no single code of ethics governing agriculture and food manufacture. Legal standards enforced in the UK by the Food Standards Agency are legal requirements and therefore do not relate to moral duties of manufacturers.
Many concerned about their health will avoid foods containing MSG, labeling in the UK as E612 which is used as a flavour enhancer (British Nutrition Foundation, 2012).
“MSG is a drug added to our foods that causes widespread toxicity” George R. Schwartz, M.D (cited in Cook, 2005, p.65).
Food labeling became necessary so it is easy for consumers to identify the contents of the food: what it contains, what the consumer should be concerned about and if eating it is against the consumers morals (The Food Labeling Regulations, 1996). However many companies have been accused of mislabeling or circumnavigating labeling requirements to make their product appeal to a larger range of consumers (MSGTruth, 2012).
Many foods apply labels claiming to have no msg, or be of all natural ingredients. However MSG is considered a natural additive, therefore can be labelled as natural (Wells, 2012). Equally if a product contains a derivative of MSG or an ingredient which itself contains MSG it is not necessary for the manufacturer to label as containing MSG.
Examples of products containing MSG, derivatives or processed with MSG when labelled otherwise.
McDonalds claim to be MSG free, however their products still contain autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed protein and natural flavours which contain wheat and dairy hydrolysates all containing free glutamate which act like MSG (MSGTruth, 2013).
It takes a dedication to access, but the ingredients of all McDonalds foods are available on their website.
Campbell’s are quick to label their products with “no artificial colours or preservatives” and “natural flavours” leading the consumer to imagine they are free from MSG and equivalents. However as discussed earlier MSG is considered a natural flavour enhancer. The ingredients of Campbell’s includes many MSG equivalent elements.
In the UK
Example: Campbell’s Cup Soup: Cream of Mushroom
Ingredients list available at: http://www.campbellsoup.co.uk/our-food/cup-soup
It is stated in the ingredients to contain:
Maltodextrin, Potato Starch, Vegetable Oil, Natural Flavourings (contain Celery), Potato Powder, Yeast Extract, Dried Mushrooms (3%), Lactose (from Milk), Mushroom Extract Powder (2.2%), Salt, Cream Powder, Milk Protein, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Skimmed Milk Powder, Dried Parsley, Ground Black Pepper, Caramelised Sugar Powder, Colour (Paprika Extract), Stabiliser (Disodium Diphosphate), Wheatflour.
From the Truth in Labeling list of hidden ingredients acting as MSG we know the following contain free glutamic acid:
We know the following often contain or produce the free glutamic acid:
In the USA this contains an even greater concentration of MSG related ingredients.
The reason this is morally unethical is it is not giving the consumer the correct information to make an informed choice about the product. It is using manipulation to represent a product as healthier than it may be.
As food labeling is controlled by the Food Standards Agency (www.food.gov.uk) in the UK and the FDA in the US there is an element of control exerted, however there is no code of ethics, convincing companies to not use loopholes and manipulative labeling techniques to avoid the cost of labeling their foods with the information required by the consumer.
If you are interested in avoiding all MSG containing ingredients a helpful list is available from http://www.truthinlabeling.org with a list of ingredients available at:
Go to next section: Pharmaceuticals
BBC News, 2013. Horsemeat scandal: Four new products test positive. [online] BBC News, 1st March. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21631961 [Accessed 9th April 2013].
British Nutrition Foundation, 2013. Looking at labels. [online] Available at: http://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/healthyeating/labels?start=4 [Accessed 1st April 2013].
Cook, L., 2005. The beginner’s guide to natural living: how to cultivate a more natural lifestyle to lose weight, prevent degenerative disease, improve your energy and attain vibrant health. Los Angeles: Ecovision Communications.
MSGTruth, 2012. What Foods To Avoid? [online] Available at: http://www.msgtruth.org/avoid.htm [Accessed 1st April 2013].
FSA, 2013. GM Labelling. [online] The Food Standards Agency, 30th January 2013. Available at: http://www.food.gov.uk/policy-advice/gm/gm_labelling#.UVgJFBm4Icg [Accessed 1st April 2013].
Gray, L., 2010. Supermarkets selling meat from animals fed GM crops. [online] The Telegraph. 25th June 2010. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/7852762/Supermarkets-selling-meat-from-animals-fed-GM-crops.html [Accessed 1st April 2013].
Gray, L., 2011. Britons unwittingly eating food made using GM soy. [online] The Telegraph. 21st March 2011. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/agriculture/food/8393871/Britons-unwittingly-eating-food-made-using-GM-soy.html [Accessed 1st April 2013].
Prescott, R., 2013. Horsemeat: What’s the big deal? [online] Available at: http://www.foodbev.com/opinion/horse-meat-whats-the-big-deal#.UWQokoJX8cg [Accessed 8th April 2013].
The Food Labelling Regulations 1996. London: HMSO.
Wells, S. D., 2012. Health basics – What’s really behind the ingredients ‘natural flavours’?. [online] Natural News, 27th June. Available at: http://www.naturalnews.com/036308_natural_flavors_MSG_aspartame.html [Accessed 8th April 2013].