Aisles of Confusion
Making Sense of Modern Food Labels
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
In addition to traditional nutrition facts and ingredients, current food packaging frequently includes a wide variety of additional labels including: organic, antibiotic free, cage free/free range, gluten free, no added hormones, no MSG, non-GMO, and probiotic. Grocery shoppers are faced with many difficult decisions, especially weighing price against perceived health benefits. Looking at labels can influence consumers, but what the labels actually mean, who regulates them, and the effects of marketing strategies are not always fully understood, leading to misconceptions and misguided fears about food. This case study helps students understand the meaning of many modern food labels through in-class activities, group research, and student presentations in which small groups research one food label in depth and present their results to the class. The case concludes with a whole-class discussion on the variety of perspectives involved in food labeling, the causes and effects of high prices for labeled products, the ethics of current labelling practices, and other general themes. There is no answer key for this case, however a rubric, assignment guidelines, and a sample student report and infographic are included in the teaching notes.
- Define terminology used in food labels, how they are regulated, and determine their significance.
- Find, use, and compare multiple sources to address scientific claims.
- Effectively communicate the findings of their research with their peers, in written, visual, and oral forms.
- Appreciate the complexity of food labelling practices that may include multiple perspectives and impacts such as nutritional, social, economic, cultural, or environmental.
- Use scientific evidence to make informed decisions in their everyday lives.
KeywordsAntibiotics; farming; food economics; food labels; gluten; GMO; hormones; MSG; nutrition; organic; probiotics; free trade; cage free; free range
Educational LevelHigh school, Undergraduate lower division, General public & informal education
Type / MethodsAnalysis (Issues), Jig-Saw, Student Presentations
Subject HeadingsAgriculture | Biology (General) | Food Science / Technology | Nutrition | Science (General) |