Food Labels Criticized By Consumer Group

January 14, 2010

According to CSPI, problems with food labels can be broken down into three categories:

The consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest, better known as CSPI, issued a report entitled Food Labeling Chaos: The Case for Reform recently that offers a detailed critique of current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) food labeling regulations and policies, as well as specific recommendations for change. The report was summarized for us by the Food Institute this week in The Food Institute Report and the entire report is available at

According to CSPI, problems with food labels can be broken down into three categories: 
• Improving the Nutrition Facts panel; 
• Improving ingredient labeling; and 
• Stopping false and misleading health-related claims.

CSPI argues that FDA and USDA should rely more on rulemaking and less on case-by-case enforcement actions to deter misleading labeling as it does now.

More specifically, CSPI recommends that on the Nutrition Facts Panel:
• The “Calories” declaration should be required to appear in a larger font and on a contrasting background, and it should be combined with the serving size.
• Products that may reasonably be consumed by one person in one sitting should be required to be labeled as single-serving containers. 
• The declaration for “Dietary Fiber” should be shortened to “Fiber,” and FDA should clarify that fiber includes only intact fibers from whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, and other foods.
• FDA should define “low sugar” and prohibit health claims for products that do not qualify as “low sugar.” In addition, FDA should prohibit “healthy” claims and restrict “fat free” and “low fat” nutrient content claims for products that do not qualify as “low sugar.” 
• FDA and USDA should take prompt enforcement action against manufacturers using misleading front of packaging or FOP nutrition symbols. 
• FDA and USDA should develop proposed rules to establish nutrient criteria for FOP nutrition labeling, and these should include criteria for added sugars. 
• FDA should proceed quickly with its planned consumer research on FOP labeling and should identify the most effective FOP nutrition labeling approach (including nutrient criteria, symbol, and labeling mechanics). 
• FDA and USDA should develop proposed rules for a mandatory FOP labeling system. 
• FDA and USDA should prohibit use of competing FOP nutrition labeling schemes. 

CSPI would also like FDA, in consultation with USDA, to publish a proposed rule to modernize the format for nutrition labeling with various changes to the font size, bolding requirements and tabular designs.

• All foods that contain a significant amount of caffeine (e.g., 5 milligrams or more per serving) should be required to prominently declare the amount of caffeine per serving in a standard location on the information panel (e.g., on a separate line between the Nutrition Facts panel and the ingredients declaration, above the Nutrition Facts panel, or in large, clear type on products that lack a Nutrition Facts panel and ingredients declaration). 

CPSC would also like FDA to prohibiting Qualified Health Claims for Conventional Foods 
• FDA should require all health claims to meet the statutory standard of “significant scientific agreement.” 
• FDA should release all consumer research on whether disclaimers in qualified health claims protect consumers from being misled. 

CSPI also wants FDA to Control Misleading “Natural” Claims 
• FDA should issue a letter to the industry summarizing its policy on “natural” claims as well as the gist of past Warning Letters, and stating that the agency will take similar enforcement action. 
• FDA should prohibit use of the term “natural” on products that contain high fructose corn syrup, regardless of how it is processed. 
• FDA should modify its policy on “natural” claims to conform to USDA’s policy by requiring that “natural” products contain no artificial ingredients and be only minimally processed. 
• USDA should complete its current rulemaking on “natural” claims. The final rule should prohibit “natural” claims for beef and poultry products that have been flavored with watery or salty marinades or injections. USDA should also require more prominent labeling of added water content. 

These are just some of the recommendations and more are included in the Food Institute’ report summary as well as in the complete report. Of course, we will all wait to see if and how USDA and FDA respond to the recommendations.