Food Labels To Carry More Info

Washington Matters

Food Labels To Carry More Info

The FDA won't be deterred from requring that food producers tell consumers more about what they are eating.

Succinct, easy-to-read nutritional information for packaged foods is coming to a store near you. Nearly a decade in the works, guidelines for information on the front label of food packages is expected from the Food & Drug Administration sometime next year. Pressure has been building to provide consumers with more nutritional information on labels. The hope is that it will help them to make healthier food choices and combat the growing problems of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

The Institute of Medicine recently released a report on front-of-package labeling to advise the FDA. The report focused on four areas which are associated with diet-related health problems: calories, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium. According to the IOM, it’s not crucial to include fiber, added sugars or vitamins because information about those nutrients can be found on the back of the label. A second IOM report coming out soon will focus on how to make the nutritional info most useful to consumers.

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The food industry will launch its own effort to try and preempt the FDA guidelines. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute are finalizing the details of the initiative and expect to have them in place by early next year. It’s not clear which nutrients will be on the front label or whether they will tout vitamins and fiber as they have in the past. Industry spokesmen did say that the new labels will be informational only and will not characterize foods as either good or bad. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, warned the industry that the new label must not only market healthy food but also warn consumers of unhealthy choices, too.

Consumer groups are hoping for a “traffic signal” system. Great Britain has a system using green, yellow and red dots to rank fats, sugar and salt as low, medium or high. The Swedish government has a system featuring a green symbol to identify the healthiest choices within a food category. “A prominent and reliable symbol on the fronts of packages would be a tremendous help to those harried shoppers racing through the supermarket,” says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The new labeling is certain to help some consumers and annoy others who think the government is already going too far in trying to tell people what they should eat. Use the comment section below to tell us what you think.