Bring Food Labeling into the 21st Century!
Food labels play an important role in the battle against obesity and diet-related disease, which are responsible for hundreds of thousands of premature deaths in the United States each year.
While food labels provide a great deal of information, the labels should be updated and made more readable and deceptive practices should be stopped. In 2014, the FDA is likely to propose updates to the Nutrition Facts label and serving sizes. Meanwhile, Congress is considering the Food Labeling Modernization Act, which was introduced in 2013 and would bring a multitude of improvements. Some of the changes that should be made include:
- Requiring more prominent labeling of calories per serving on the Nutrition Facts label,
- Requiring companies to base nutrition information on realistic serving sizes,
- Adding a recommended daily limit on added sugar consumption to the Nutrition Facts label,
- Making the Nutrition Facts label easier to understand, and
- Mandating a simple symbol (a number from 1–100, a green logo on healthier foods, 0 to 3 checkmarks, etc.) on the fronts of packages that would quickly convey the overall nutritional value of the foods.
The FDA and Congress should also close loopholes that permit companies to make misleading health-related claims for food products. For more information about deceptive labels, read CSPI’s 2010 report, Food Labeling Chaos. The FDA and Congress should:
- Require that all health-related claims be reviewed by the FDA prior to marketing to ensure they are scientifically valid,
- Prohibit claims that a food is low in trans fats, unless the food is also low in saturated fat and cholesterol,
- Require that claims for so-called “Natural” foods meet specific standards, and
- Require that claims, such as “made with whole grain,” be permitted only if the product discloses the amount of whole grain (as a percentage of the total grain content).
In addition, the FDA and Congress should require the content and format of ingredient listings to be improved:
- Caffeine content per serving should be disclosed,
- The percentages of key ingredients should be listed. Ingredients should be listed in an easy-to-read font and format.
This illustration shows some of the ways in which food labels could be improved (click to view larger version):
Modernization of nutrition and health information on food labels is an essential weapon in the fight against obesity and diet-related diseases. Cost-benefit analyses of previous food labeling reforms show that the costs of changing food labels is greatly outweighed by the health benefits of providing consumers with better label information. You could help improve labels by writing to your representatives in Congress. The time for action to improve food labels is now!