Lead in drinking water and spices, and arsenic in rice and baby food are just a few of the more recent food safety issues. A few years farther back, it was the discovery of BPA in water bottles and the linings of food tins. It’s hard to know how to eat safely and produce food that consumers can rely upon to be free of harmful chemicals.
A new non-profit, Denver’s Clean Label Project, aims to arm consumers with the knowledge they need to avoid toxins in their food. An independent research group comprised of what Doug Porter, Clean Label Project’s Board Chair describes as “pediatricians, food scientists, concerned moms, dads, and people with non-profit backgrounds,” the organization coalesced around the desire to use clear science to help bridge the gap between worry and knowledge about toxins.
“There is a great deal of confusion that exists around marketing terminology and claims,” Porter says. “We believe parents shouldn’t need a PhD to know what’s in their family’s food. Our vision is to achieve a cleaner food supply for everyone.”
As such, Clean Label Project tests for arsenic, cadmium, lead, aluminum, nickel, BPA, antibiotics, pesticides, artificial colors, and sulfites. They are unaffiliated with any brand, retailer, or manufacturer, and aim to provide information about products across organic and conventional food production sectors. According to the Project’s press release, foods will be blind-tested in an accredited, independent lab, and data will be reviewed by “an advisory board of physicians, epidemiologists, and food scientists who analyze the risks of each tested substance using a proprietary algorithm.”
“The negative impacts from excess salt or sugar were more readily understood with issues like high blood pressure or diabetes increasing at an alarming rate,” Porter says of previous health concerns about food. “As a result, labeling information and guidelines were focused around those ingredients first. Toxins and contaminants are more complex to understand and can be very harmful over time.”
In response to this threat, Porter and his colleagues believe an informed public will be best prepared to confront the issues that strike fear into the hearts of consumers.
“We are only now beginning to understand the impact of not just what we add to foods, but also what gets into our food supply inadvertently,” says Porter. “The FDA and the EPA have already created regulations around a number of toxic contaminants. It is time now to apply emerging knowledge to not just avoid them, but to also proactively remove them from the food supply. As awareness grows in the marketplace of harmful contaminants in our food supply so too will demands for removing or avoiding them.”
Porter says Clean Label Project’s efforts aim to create a food supply that will be cleaner and “purer”—he defines “purity” in food as “scientifically determined to contain the lowest acceptable levels of potentially harmful contaminants.” With informed consumers increasingly choosing clean food over food that may contain toxins, Porter says, over time the public will begin to drive a shift toward less toxic products. Manufacturers will aim to meet that demand, and positive health outcomes will be unavoidable.
On the industry level, Porter says he knows that Clean Label Project may pose a challenge to producers comfortable with the status quo, but there has been little in the way of pushback so far.
“What we have encountered has been positive because the vast majority of producers know this is an important topic to address,” Porter says. “There is a significant difference among products in the same category—so we know that foods can be produced with lower toxins. It is a matter of adopting the best practices, using better sources, and understanding how and where the food is contaminated.”