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Do you know what’s inside?

February 5th, 2015

With each passing technological advance or discovery, the dissemination of information takes place at even faster paces.

New improvements to our phones allow us to access videos, photos and news with several taps on our screen. Social media sites not only promote general banter, but also serve the important function of promoting important dialogue and fact-checking during crises or upon the breaking of large news.

But with this massive boom in media and technology, painfully large gaps in its effective use still present issues for people worldwide each day.

In America, consumers are reluctant to question the source of their daily groceries of bread and milk. These items are purchased with little consideration, and it’s taken on faith that the prepackaged, mass-produced products contain exactly what they purport to contain.

In fact, our assumptions are ostensibly safeguarded by certain regulatory agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture.

These agencies have been tasked with inspecting food and providing their stamp of approval before it ever hits markets for consumption.

And for the most part, our system functions without much scandal. Thus, when you pull groceries from the shelf and stuff them into your cart, questions of cleanliness or foodborne illnesses don’t creep into your mind. But this assumption, that regulatory agencies unequivocally protect the American consumer is more laughable than you might want to admit to yourself.

These two chief regulatory agencies focus their inspections on different groups of foods for safety and inspection. As foods typically do not change drastically from year to year, these agencies have become well-acquainted with the foods for which they are responsible. But while America can count on foods not to change, fads are known to do just that.

Consumers’ unthinking acceptance of new, untested “supplements” and “herbal” products has resulted in large, national retailers taking notice. In retail and grocery stores nationwide, there has been a significant uptick in the number of these fad products offered. Each one promises some unique benefit, ranging from increased energy and focus to increased muscle definition and weight loss.

These novel products dress up their promises of potency in flashy packaging and attention-grabbing advertising. And to an unsuspecting American consumer, their promises are as good as gold.

As more of these types of products begin to populate retail stores’ shelves and find their way into consumers’ shopping carts, certain people begin to ask questions about their honesty. That’s exactly what led the New York State attorney general’s office to conduct tests on some of the products.

And the results are just the opposite of what the consumers expected.

The office of the attorney general’s tests yielded that the large majority of these “supplements” and “herbal” products contained virtually none of the ingredients they advertised.

While I typically avoid commenting on current news in my columns, this represents a particularly heinous violation of public trust. Neither of the agencies responsible for keeping consumers safe felt these new products resided within their scope. As a result, the consumers suffered.

Such concerted efforts to mislead consumers through misrepresentation shows that money, not consumers, are the focus.

All of this does more than show that you should read labels, it shows you should work to keep yourself and others safe by paying closer attention.

Do your part to keep yourself safe. If it sounds too good to be true, make sure to double check that it isn’t.

Where oversight by agencies allows things to fall between the cracks, average people with an above average interest in being informed and inquisitive make the difference.