Peanut Butter and Truth in Labeling

The jar in question!

Swung by the grocery store tonight on the way home to pick up a few things and I left with everything I needed and this blog post.

I used up the last of my peanut butter this afternoon, so in addition to some milk, bananas, and some frozen fruit, I grabbed a jar of peanut butter.  Then I put it back down on the shelf where I got it from.

It was a jar of Peter Pan.  I grabbed it just because I didn’t think we’d bought any Peter Pan for a while so why not try some?  Then I saw the big yellow star on the label that said “No High Fructose Corn Syrup.”  I thought to myself, “That’s odd. I don’t need any extra sugar, and I wouldn’t expect to find it here.”  Especially because I use the peanut butter in the Shakeology shakes I’ve been having for lunch lately.  They’re pretty good by the way.

Now we’re back to where I put the jar down.  I then proceeded to pick up one jar of every other brand of peanut butter in the store to check the ingredients.  Guess what?  No HFCS in any of them.  So why would ConAgra seemingly go out of their way to tell consumers their product doesn’t contain an ingredient that none of its competitors lists as an ingredient in their products?  I’ve got no big thing against ConAgra.  They employ a lot of people in my state.  I think it’s just a bit curious and somewhat misleading with all the fear mongering about HFCS in the media these days.  High fructose corn syrup (the high part being a misnomer if you ask certain people) is sugar.  Cane and beet sugar is sugar.  If you eat too much sugar you gain weight.  Don’t eat too much sugar.  That’s all you need to know.

So I ended up coming home with a jar of Jif that has the same list of ingredients as Peter Pan just out of spite for that yellow star.  I actually thought for a minute they might as well label it free of glass and rocks, but then I realized it’s probably somewhat more likely that you’d find some trace of glass and rocks if you tested all the jars of peanut butter produced in a year than finding some HFCS.  Or Corn Sugar.  Or whatever.  Just don’t eat too much.  Actually eat whatever you like because it’s none of my business!

And this is what I told my wife about that label when we got home:

“Labeling that jar No High Fructose Corn Syrup is like labeling the bananas I bought Now Boneless!”

UPDATE: This little post spawned a bit of a movement in the “agvocate” crowd.  On Wednesday December 7th twitter is going to be populated with the hashtag #BSLabels.  We’re hoping to make this a trending topic on twitter.  Several of us bloggers are going to be on the lookout for labels that are misleading or totally unnecessary and will be posting pictures of them on our sites.  So stay tuned to see what we come up with!

Comments

    1. You are not as smart as you think you are. I am very sensitive to sugars, sweeteners, gluten and other additives. I can use Peter Pan with the big yellow star withouthaving a severe reaction but if I take a bite of Jif I get a terrible dizzy spell and feel sick..Be very careful how you warn people or scare people unless you are an authority on the subject..Just so you know..

      1. That’s interesting because all the jars I looked at contained the same ingredients. My point with this post is that the yellow star may help people like yourself find products quicker, but at the same time such marketing makes the competition look bad in some regard when they are all selling essentially the same product.

        1. For those of you who might think this is a blog from just an everyday person, let me tell you what I see. This is Monsanto’s puppet. There is no need to truly share info here, because Brian isn’t one of us, but someone to who gives you a few truths to mislead you elsewhere. I, for one, will never be back here. I’m smarter than that.

          1. You can choose to believe that, and it would be fine by me. I think your comment may be in regard to some of my other posts and not this one. What I am is a 21st century farmer who happens to be a proponent of biotechnology. No one is pulling my strings. I can assure you of that. Thanks for stopping by.

  1. Great post! As a dairy producer and mother who goes to the grocery store weekly, I’m often frustrated by the misleading labels on many products. I hope people know these “absence claims” are just marketing. I chuckle at milk labels that claim the product inside is antibiotic-free and hormone-free because ALL milk is antibiotic free (every tank load is strictly tested) and ALL milk contains the same quantity of hormones. In most cases, these heavily labeled products are more expensive than their counterpart without labels. The reality is, just like you found with peanut butter, the products are the same – only the labels are different. I urge consumers to read the ingredients on the back of the package, not the labels on the front.

      1. Brian, I did the same thing you did. Had to search the shelves to find one (happened to be the same brand, maybe it was older) that did not have the misleading label. Glad you blogged about it.

  2. Okay, I’ll say it.
    This is nothing but chicken-sh!t marketing. Pure and simple. Brilliant. But still chicken-sh!t.
    and LAZY. Lazy marketing, pointing out what your product NEVER had, in a way that implies you’re aware of current consumer needs (even if those needs were created by other’s brilliant marketing schemes) and therefor removed the offending ingredient from your product.
    Lame.
    So, chicken-sh!t. Lazy. and Lame. That’s what I’m calling this.

    Now, for a point of clarification, HFCS was named as such to differentiate it from other corn syrups that were lower in fructose. It was named by a food scientist, not a food marketer. Otherwise it might have been called corn sugar from the beginning. But that wouldn’t have made any sense to the food scientists that created the recipes for the products that ended up including HFCS, because they were looking for a product that mimicked the properties of cane sugar, but had the added value of moistness, mixability, etc.

    But don’t let me confuse anyone with the facts :)

    1. It would be interesting to set up an experiment with all the peanut butter brands I saw yesterday in which you would ask consumers which one they would be most likely to buy based only on the label. Wonder what the results would be?

    2. To quote a good actor from a classic country movie, Pure Country “That little white speck atop of chicken shit is chicken shit too” in this case the white speck is the no hfcs label.

  3. I don’t know that Ill ever look at a banana again without thinking of this post. This is classic and so true. Thanks for posting!

  4. Great post! I hate it that they are targeting High Fructose Corn Syrup and it always irritates me when they have commercials about it. Complete silliness if you ask me.

    1. I agree, Shannon. I bet a lot of people aren’t aware of the point Tricia made. It’s a relative high fructose, based on other corn. But in general people probably believe it’s just loaded with sugar. That’s why corn sugar is a better name, and it should have just been called that in the first place.

  5. Apparently, it’s a selling point! And you know, give the buyer what they want, and all that good stuff! Btw, being from west Tennessee, I can vouch for those nanna and peanut butter sammiches! Go make one!

  6. I love Krema peanut butter because it has no sodium, I don’t like salt! Great post!! I also put food back when it uses labels that say No High Fructose Corn Syrup. I hate the milk that labels it this way too. I see you drink shakeology…are you doing Insanity? I have tried it, but still haven’t completed the entire 60 days. I love lifting weights too much. Good luck and keep up the great work!

    1. I’ve done Insanity and probably got in better shape, but maintained weight. A little over a year before that I did P90X and lost 20lbs, which has stayed off for nearly two years. I’d like to do it again, but it does take a lot of time. Ten more pounds lost would be nice.

    1. Thanks, James. I’m keeping an eye out for other similar labels. I’m not against labeling things like this or GMO, but it seems it’s not needed when similar products don’t contain the ingredient. To me it’s just playing on the scare tactics used to give HFCS a bad name.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. Browsed on over to your site and just read Top Reason Pt. II. Who knew I’d find a Bob Taylor reference? I too have done that farm management project.

    2. One of the things they DID NOT teach at Purdue then was HTML tagging, so I see my photo didn’t post correctly in my first comment. So here’s a link:
      http://www.farmergoestomarket.com/missouri/images/stories/Issue11_Aug2011/fish-and-chips-special.jpg
      Love this photo. The embodiment of the added value these consumers are buying when they fall for this stuff.
      Unfortunately for farmers, the less-than-humorous aspect of all this was illustrated by a study Cornell published several years ago. It showed that when a grocer sells “antibiotic-free” or “bST-free” milk next to regular milk, not only does he risk lowering demand for the conventional milk, he risks reducing demand for ALL the milk in the case. Here’s a link to that story we reported on Farmer Goes to Market, a program we’re doing to help explain farm issues to grocers.
      http://nebraska.farmergoestomarket.com/index.php/recent-stories/13-technology/11-technology2-june2011
      Enjoy the blog. Keep up the good work

  7. I have often wondered “WHY??” and “WHAT THE HECK FOR?” myself. Just like fat-free licorice….. course it’s fat-free there’s no dairy products in it!!

  8. I’d say that, sadly, this is the direction that we are going. Just like we see “100% vitamin C” on a bottle of orange sugar water.

    Infuriating to say the least.

    It is capitalist America. Boo…

    1. I do like capitalism, so I guess this is one of the prices to pay. It’d be interesting if I could find a study of sales figures before and after a product was marketed with a label like this.

  9. This is one of the ways that we endorse products, people, or ideas better known as the tricks of the trade. This falls into the Glittering Generality category. It’s exactly like labeling bananas boneless, as a matter of fact.

    Other tricks are testimonials, card stacking, transfer, and plain folks.

    1. Can’t blame ‘em for trying to get an edge on the competition. I just think it’s not necessary is a case like this. I went to another grocery not long after I wrote this post and found the exact same situation but this time the yellow star said “No Trans Fat.” Guess it’s the marketers doing their job.

  10. …..they probably simply wanted to make sure no one thought there was HFCS in thier PB. I think a lot of people would expect it to contain added sugar since it is obviousily marketed to kids.

  11. A few years ago when the Atkins diet was all the rage I saw a sign in the meat section that said, “Naturally Carb Free!”

    It irks me to this day. I am hard-pressed to think of something stupider than the marketers deigning to educate us idiots about how many carbohydrates are in a steak or a chicken breast.

  12. I find labeling on products very helpful. Just because you did not find HFCS in any other brand currently does not mean that there was not some in it in the past. I am pretty sure there WAS HFCS in at least one PB brand in the past. Lots of companies are taking it out..rightfully or not, I don’t know. On a side note, one labeling trend I like is labeling things Gluten Free, even if they should be naturally Gluten Free. It is tedious reading EVERY label, EVERY time and that little sign on a label makes my shopping trip so much easier.

    1. I’m a bit in the dark on gluten. I’m aware of gluten-free, but that’s about it. I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for PB with HFCS in and haven’t found any yet. Like you say, maybe it was there in the past. I have come across the same brand touting no trans fat, and didn’t find it in the others that weren’t labeled.

      1. :o) Just so you can be less in the dark…about 1% of the population of this country have Celiac Disease… that means if they consume the protein found in wheat, rye or barley, their immune system misreacts and starts to attack the lining of their intestine instead of the protein. Unfortunately, many of these people don’t know they have it. The only treatment is to actively avoid all wheat, rye and barley and any products containing it. That means reading ALL labels, every time and understanding the fine print and gobbledy gook that is there. So I suppose it is stupid to label something as not having something it never had, but perhaps people never realized that product was something they might want to have because they never realized it never had that offending ingredient…LOL…that seems very confusing, but I think you know what I mean…

  13. I bristle at seeing “all natural ingredients” on products that contain sugar, esp in the top 3 ingredients. HFCS is not natural but sugar is so labeling “all natural ingredients” doesn’t mean it’s good for you either. Another example is “made with real xxx” check the label (ie. Nutrigrain bars) and you’ll find there is a little fruit at the bottom of the ingredient list but plenty of other stuff you might be avoiding higher up.

    1. For the most part I try to keep the sugar content down no matter what the source. I’m certainly not one who likes “squishy” feel good words or changing things to make them sound better, but I think they screwed up with HFCS and are backtracking now. Remember when climate change was global warming, or as the late great George Carlin used to say when post traumatic stress syndrome used to be shell shock? Like an earlier comment said it was food scientists who named it, not food marketers. Marketers probably would’ve called it corn sugar from the beginning. The only reason it’s “high” fructose is because it has a relatively high amount of fructose in comparison to other corn sugars, not necessarily compared to regular sugar. Thanks for reading!

      1. FYI, when the HFCS manufacturers petitioned the FDA to change the name to ‘corn sugar’ in 2010, the sugar lobby opposed it. There is already a product called dextrose, also known as corn sugar, that is used as a sugar substitute. The sugar lobby argued that it would be confusing to consumers to allow the change. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57444586-10391704/fda-rejects-industry-bid-to-change-name-of-high-fructose-corn-syrup-to-corn-sugar/

  14. I need to see some math on ingredients that list the first three as sugars….what is the maximun sugar that that could be.???

  15. Hi Brian -
    I’m proud to know that we (the US) still has farmers who really care about their products.
    It would be nice if every consumer realized that they should read the “fine print” on the labels…however, sometimes the labels legally omit pertinent info deliberately; to wit, the “fresh” orange juice of Florida.
    It is so refreshing to read your blog…again, I am proud of you.
    jonathan

  16. Wasn’t there a little government agency created some years back to protect consumers from the BS, out-right lying of marketers and companies? (sarcasm intended) But seriously, it was supposed to stop them from making outrageous and crazy statements that are either total lies or so misleading it creates confusion. Why are marketers allowed to do this crap??! Grr…..

    P.S. – The FTC should be doing what they created it for in 1914.

    1. I think this is territory where we have to tread carefully. Sometimes it seems it’s hard to combine both common sense and the letter of the law. I’m not a big fan of over-regulation of anything, so stuff like this is probably the price we pay.

  17. Brian,
    Enjoyed your article. Do one on “fresh” . Would you buy old or stale bananas or watermelon or peaches. Do our marketing people run out of ideas or do people not realize that you buy fresh not old or other words for not fresh.

  18. In the 1960′s, on San Vicente Blvd, in Brentwood, Los Angeles, there was an ice cream/cafe named “The Carousel”, which was owned by mob boss Mickey Cohen. On the menu was “The Lousy One”, a peanut butter and banana sandwich. It was there that I acquired the habit of a lifetime. In fact, I had two “Lousy Ones” yesterday; one for lunch and another for an afternoon snack. Hint: cut the banana into rounds and lay them out like checkers all over the peanut butter. Slicing the banana into long strips does not work, because, as you bite the long slice slides out the other end. Best with strawberry preserves, and not strawberry jam, as it has no “body”.

  19. To quote Mark Twain:
    “”There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

    I’ve added a fourth item: “There are four kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, statistics and MARKETING.”

  20. There is a difference in how HFCS affects the body. Life Extension (lef.org) says It is important to minimize exposure to fructose, particularly processed foods made with high fructose corn syrup, since this common sweetener boosts triglycerides significantly, as well as possibly increasing risk for diabetes and increasing appetite.
    (footnote 16. Bray GA, Nielsen SJ, Popkin BM. Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. Am J Clin Nutr 2004 Apr;79(4):537-43.)
    Here are 5 health dangers of HFCS
    1. Significant Risk of Weight Gain & Obesity
    2. Increased Risk of Developing Type-2 Diabetes
    3. Hypertension and Elevated “Bad” Cholesterol Levels
    4. High Fructose Corn Syrup & Long-Term Liver Damage
    5. Mercury Exposure from HFCS
    More info at http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/high-fructose-corn-syrup-dangers/

  21. Boneless bananas…clever! Very clever!

    Well, I’m pretty sure that I was purchasing a new jar of Jif as you were writing this. The yellow star in Peter Pan must not have caught my attention.

    Since we’re talking about labels though, I’d like switch gears and remind everyone that when a label says “no trans fat,” it is most likely untrue. Flip the bag over and scan the ingredients. If it says “partially hydrogenated ____” anywhere, then there is indeed trans fat in what you’re eating. It’s somehow considered to be zero trans fat if it’s less than and half (.5) a gram. So, most products keep it at .4 grams, just UNDER the .5 range. Considering that it’s recommended we all take in less than 2 grams of trans fat per day, we can only have 4 servings of something with .4 grams in it. How sneaky these labels are to suggest that we could eat their product freely and NEVER consume a trans fat gram.

    Ok…now you’ve heard my label pet peeve. :)

    1. That’s very interesting, Sharon. Thanks for sharing! I don’t know if you saw any of my replies to some other comments, but I went to another grocer and found the exact same situation but with trans fats instead of HFCS.

    1. not at all true jj! i too would like to see your “research” behind that statement. sugar can come from sugar cane, beets and corn and is not necessarily “High Fructose.” In addition, the percent of fructose in HFCS is 55% (to 45% glucose). The percent of fructose in glucose (or table sugar) is 50%. The problem is, when people complain about HFCS and use “studies” to show how bad it is, their research is typically done with only fructose, which IS worse for you than glucose (5%, however, won’t be a big enough difference to see any differences) OR it’s showing the common sense notion that too much sugar (no matter where it comes from) is bad for you (what a surprise!!)

  22. When a label says “sugar” it can be any number of ingredients used as a sweetener which includes HFCS or another form of corn sweetener that may include HFCS. So just because all the label says is sugar does not mean it does not contain HFCS. So while you are complaining about the label being stupid because no peanut butter contains HFCS it is very likely that lots of them do including Skippy which also only lists “sugar” despite having HFCS in it. In knowing this I would definitely pick a brand that says contains no HFCS since there is no way to know if another brand uses such ingredients without calling them all and finding out what they use as their “sugar”

    1. “Glucose is the sugar in blood, and dextrose is the name given to glucose produced from corn. Biochemically they are identical.

      Fructose is the principal sugar in fruit. In fruit, it raises no issues because it is accompanied by nutrients and fiber.

      Sucrose is table sugar. It is a double sugar, containing one part each of glucose (50%) and fructose (50%), chemically bound together. Enzymes in the intestine quickly and efficiently split sucrose into glucose and fructose, which are absorbed into the body as single sugars.

      HFCS is made from corn starch. It contains roughly equivalent amounts of glucose (45 to 58%) and fructose (42 to 55%).”

      I have seen peanut butter with dextrose or sugar in it. Also, “fully hydrogenated oils (rapeseed, soybean)”, palm oil, etc. These additives make the peanut butter soft, sweet and homogeneous. I don’t like sugar or hydrogenated fat in my peanut butter so i have to buy the kind that you have to be Popeye to stir in the oils. It contains: peanuts, salt. :)

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