Frustrated by nutrition labels, FDA head steps in

Articles
November 02, 2009

Frustrated by nutrition labels, FDA head steps in

If food marketers evaluated their product packages as if they were consumers, they would realize how confusing and incomplete today’s nutrition labeling is – and they would get behind a national push for standardized terms and graphics.

If food marketers evaluated their product packages as if they were consumers, they would realize how confusing and incomplete today’s nutrition labeling is – and they would get behind a national push for standardized terms and graphics.

That is, of course, if their products would stand up to the scrutiny. For the rest of what’s sold in supermarkets, we think food marketers actually do prefer to cloud the nutrition issue, keep taste and packaging foremost, and pepper their messages with inviting sound bites such as ‘less fat, no sugar added, natural’ and other purchase motivators.

The food and retail sectors have tackled the nutrition labeling issue, not surprisingly in fits and starts for years – and virtually all programs have met with criticism. We won’t recall all the efforts that came up short, but the abandonment by many of Smart Choices (the Froot Loops syndrome) is just the latest.

It comes at a time when the new FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg indicated her personal frustration about this topic, and her intent to do something about it. “As a mother of two who frequently finds herself racing down the grocery aisle hoping to grab foods that are healthy for my family, I would welcome the day that I can look on the front of packages and see nutrition information I can trust and use,” she told the Washington Post. “I see it as my responsibility, and the responsibility of this administration, to help make that happen.”

She ranted about the appearance of the Smart Choices green checkmark on Froot Loops and Cocoa Krispies, which are almost 50% sugar, and on other foods that represent 80% of a person’s daily fat allowance, or high amounts of saturated fats.

At SupermarketGuru.com, we’ve been writing for a long time about how the industry has gone wrong in this regard – and how a simplified, uniform word-and-graphic label system is needed. Ms. Hamburg is right to be calling out manufacturers on labels that mislead consumers by telling only favorable parts of a product’s story.

We commend her timeline of three months for FDA to propose new standards for manufacturer claims, and the end of 2010 to develop a new uniform labeling system. This is an old story: if industry doesn’t address its own shortcomings, it invites the government to do so in the public interest. We look forward to FDA’s constructive steps, and stand ready to play a role in improving nutrition labeling for America.