Unlabeled and unbranded food: how safe are they?
Variations of the fish, squid and shrimp balls are all over the supermarkets. They come in so many shapes and flavors and you can buy as little as 100 grams so you don’t need to worry about buying more than you can consume. It’s especially useful if you just want to try a particular item. I first saw them in SM Hypermarket (see the mushroom balls entry); now, Shopwise has them too. I bought a hundred grams of sharksfin balls on trial, added them to the home made chicken noodle soup I had for breakfast a few days ago, and they were pretty good.
The thing is, these frozen food items are unbranded and unlabeled. Customers are not told where they come from (I’m 99% certain they are imported) and who the manufacturers are. With the recent scare over the Sanlu milk scandal, the question arises: Just how safe are unlabeled and unbranded food products?
The truth is, long before repacked, unlabeled and unbranded milk products, Filipinos have been consuming food products with unknown origins. I’ve been doing the marketing for ages and I used to buy my unlabeled and unbranded tofu in the public markets. Never got sick eating them despite persistent rumors that they contained plaster of Paris.
Perhaps, the real issue is not so much the safety. There have been so many exposes about the lies in food labels — that corned beef is actually from carabao beef is just one example. There have been issues too about the unsanitary handling of food sold in public markets. If you’ve seen the inside of a slaughterhouse, you might think twice about buying pork or beef.
Perhaps, the real issue about unlabeled and unbranded food is that should a consumer fall ill, there is no legal recourse because he won’t know whom to hold responsible. He won’t know whom to sue and whom to charge with hospital and medical bills or, in a worst case scenario, the funeral expenses and damages for loss of income of a family member.
The best practice is, of course, to know exactly what it is that you’re putting inside your mouth. But in a world of advertising lies and gimmicks, that’s easier said than done. Brand and label do not necessarily spell S-A-F-E. We really do not know the real circumstances under which branded and labeled food products are made. Food manufacturers rarely allow the public inside their factories. In fact, no one is even sure if the ingredients listed in food packages are comprehensive or whether they exclude items which can make a consumer recoil from buying them. Businessmen will never volunteer information to the public that will make their products less attractive.
Brands and labels only mean we know whom to run after in case something bad happens to us after consuming certain food products. Whether we can really make the manufacturers pay is subject to debate. We know how big businesses are. They have a battalion of lawyers who will present technical laboratory reports saying their clients’ products are safe. Naturally, they will not admit, unless cornered like injured whimpering animals, that most of these reports were prepared at the behest of the clients themselves.
In a way, it’s a price we pay for what we like to call “progress.” Many of us are hardly in a position to raise our own cows, pigs, chickens, fish and vegetables to really ensure that what we eat are safe. We rely on food producers who rely on wholesalers and retailers, and between the source of the food in their natural state and the condition we find them in in the markets and supermarkets, we really do not know what they have been subjected to.