New Year's Resolutions For Big Food

It was a big year for Big Food. More fast food chains pledged to stop using gestation crates. Country of origin rules -- mandating that meat suppliers label where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered -- took effect. A major food corporation and a fast food chain announced they would stop using artificial dye in some of their products.

Despite certain victories, however, we also saw considerable fails for sustainability and roadblocks to transparency. Voters rejected a ballot measure that would require GMO labeling in Washington state, a study found that one third of seafood is mislabeled and certain restaurants refused to disclose their ingredients.

Here are nine resolutions Big Food should make in 2014:

GMO Labeling: More states should require labels on genetically modified food.
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Last year, Proposition 37, a ballot measure in California that called for mandatory labeling on GMO food, garnered national attention but ultimately failed on election day. This year, GMO labeling failed on the ballot in Washington state. It wasn't all bad in 2013, though. Maine and Connecticut passed laws requiring labels on genetically modified foods, provided certain conditions are met. A HuffPost/YouGov poll from last spring found that 82 percent of Americans want to see genetically modified food labeled, and according to advocacy group Just Label It, that number is high as 92 percent.
Higher Fast Food Wages: Fast food employees should be paid higher, fairer wages.
On December 5, thousands of fast food workers went on strike, calling to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, significantly more than the current average of $8.94, but still less than it should be, by any account. The Center for Economic and Policy Research estimates that if the minimum wage had kept up with economic growth since 1968, today it would be around $16.50. When it takes a McDonald's employee four months to make what a CEO makes in an hour, you know something is seriously wrong.
Antibiotics In Meat: The FDA should require, not simply suggest, that companies and factory farms tailor the use of antibiotics in animals meant for slaughter.
The FDA announced in December that it would be phasing out the widespread use of antibiotics in meat. While it seemed like good news, the truth of the matter is a little murkier. As Mark Bittman explained in the New York Times, the FDA simply gave drug companies "three months to 'comply' with a voluntary plan to marginally change their labeling, and three years to implement that." Not exactly a forceful statement.The issue is far-reaching. Eighty percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to animals, and the Center for Disease Control has deemed antibiotic resistance "one of our most serious health threats."
Seafood Labeling: The seafood and restaurant industries should work to put an end to fish fraud.
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A study released by ocean advocacy group Oceana earlier this year revealed that mislabeled seafood is a rampant problem. The organization estimates a third of seafood in the U.S. is inaccurately marked. Broken down, that's a shocking 74 percent of fish at sushi restaurants, 38 percent at non-sushi restaurants and 18 percent at supermarkets that may be mislabeled. If you eat fish at least once a week, you could be overspending by as much as $500 a year, as cheaper kinds of fish get marked as more expensive varieties. And of course it's not only about the money; it's a health threat too. People who might want to avoid fish with high levels of mercury, for example, may not be given the chance to decide for themselves.
Country Of Origin Labeling: Retailers should embrace transparency in meat labeling.
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In May, the USDA implemented a revised set of rules for Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) on meat, which requires retailers to indicate where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered. Prior to May, meat suppliers were only required to label where the animal originated. The law saw some pushback from the likes of the National Grocers Association and big meatpackers like Cargill, who complained about how much the new measure would cost them. Ultimately, the revised laws were put in place and meat sellers as well as consumers should celebrate this move towards greater transparency.
Artificial Dyes: More companies should remove artificial dyes from their food.
In September, food giant Kraft announced it has plans to remove artificial dyes from some of its products. Chick-fil-A later announced that it would be removing artificial dyes from its dressings and sauces. Consumers are increasingly valuing products with ingredients they can pronounce, and if companies like Kraft and Chick-fil-A are listening by removing things like unnatural dyes, we hope others do too.
Gestation Crates: More companies should pledge to stop using this inhumane practice.
Gestation crates are small cages that confine pregnant sows in terrible, cramped positions for the majority of their lives. Last year, a handful of major fast food chains -- such as McDonald's, Burger King and Denny's -- denounced this ugly practice. This year, the positive movement continued, with Papa John's and Tim Horton's vowing to stop keeping sows in gestation crates. We hope the positive momentum endures in 2014.
Disclosing Ingredients: Restaurants should make their ingredients public.
Papa John's Facebook
Papa John's may have taken a step forward by denouncing gestation crates, but the company gets negative marks in transparency this year because it refuses to disclose its ingredients to the public. Many fast food chains -- like McDonald's, Taco Bell, Subway and Chipotle -- make their ingredients readily available to customers. Ironically, Papa Johns, whose slogan is "Better pizza. Better ingredients," won't let its patrons know what those ingredients actually are. The website offers some nutritional information, but when journalist Melanie Warner of U.S. News & World Report tried to uncover the actual ingredients Papa John's uses, the chain would not give her any information. In 2014, we should celebrate those restaurants that make their ingredients public and ask for greater transparency from those who don't.
"Healthwashing:" Deceptive marketing by food companies needs to stop.
It's no secret that food marketing can be misleading. Packaging is notoriously deceptive, and overused -- so much so that terms like "natural" and "sustainable" have lost all meaning. In 2014, we hope food companies stop "healthwashing" their products and misguiding consumers, who, again, are looking for greater transparency.

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