Apathy over nutrition labels for fresh produce inexcusable - The Packer

Apathy over nutrition labels for fresh produce inexcusable

03/03/2014 02:18:00 PM
Tom Karst

Tom KarstThe Food and Drug Administration has put out a new proposed rule on food labeling. While they are largely irrelevant for fresh produce, the packaged foods industry - and consumers - have been paying quite a bit of attention to the new proposal.

Comments on the proposed rule are due June 2. The changes to the labeling regulation for “conventional foods and dietary supplements” are designed to provided updated nutrition information on the label to assist consumers in eating healthy.

In the proposal, the agency updated the list of nutrients that are required or permitted to be declared and also revise the format and appearance of the Nutrition Facts label.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest issued a news release in support of the new regulations with a few caveats.

From that release:

Proposed revisions to the Nutrition Facts label, released today by the Food and Drug Administration, received mostly high marks from the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, which lobbied for the passage of the 1990 law requiring nutrition labels on packaged foods. CSPI especially welcomed the proposed new emphasis on calories, revision of certain foods’ serving sizes, and new line for added sugars. But the group says the agency should revise its proposal to include a Daily Value for added sugars and to further lower the Daily Value for sodium to 1,500 milligrams.

The tone from the Grocery Manufacturers Association struck a positive tone but suggested the industry has it handled, after all:

WASHINGTON, DC –The Grocery Manufacturers Association issued the following statement from President and CEO Pamela G. Bailey in response to today’s announcement by First Lady Michelle Obama of proposed updates to the Nutrition Facts label on food packages:

“We welcome First Lady Michelle Obama’s announcement of the proposed updates to the Nutrition Facts panel and thank her for her leadership on this and broader health issues. The nation could not ask for a more thoughtful, effective or passionate advocate than Michelle Obama.

“For 20 years, the Nutrition Facts panel has been an invaluable tool to help consumers build more healthful diets for themselves and their families, and the time is right for an update.

“Diets, eating patterns and consumer preferences have changed dramatically since the Nutrition Facts were first introduced. Just as food and beverage manufacturers have responded by creating more than 20,000 healthier product choices since 2002, and by providing tools like Facts Up Front front-of-pack labels, the FDA is responding with a thoughtful review of the Nutrition Facts panel.

“We look forward to working with the FDA and other stakeholders as these proposed updates to the Nutrition Facts label make their way through the rule making process.

“It is critical that any changes are based on the most current and reliable science. Equally as important is ensuring that any changes ultimately serve to inform, and not confuse, consumers.”

 

But wait! The Center for Science in the Public Interest is wary of the industry’s “Facts up Front” approach and released this statement just today from CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson:

In 2011 the Institute of Medicine recommended that the Food and Drug Administration design a mandatory, front-of-package labeling system that would instantly communicate a food’s overall healthfulness. Whether such a system used red, yellow, and green dots, a numerical score, or a letter grade, such labeling would clearly distinguish truly healthful foods from less healthful ones. CSPI petitioned the FDA to design and implement a front-of-package labeling system back in 2006.

To be clear, the industry’s voluntary “Facts Up Front” is not such a system. It is aimed more at preempting an FDA-designed system than at providing easy-to-understand “nutrition in a nutshell” information for consumers. Its voluntary nature means you may not see it on junk foods. And even if you did, it wouldn’t successfully highlight the food’s unhealthfulness. Facts Up Front is a joke that should be roundly ignored by the FDA and the Administration. We need an FDA-designed front-of-package system that is mandatory, easily understood by even less-educated consumers, and science-based.

 

 

TK: Perhaps the saddest thing about this hard-charging attempt to tweak the nutrition facts label is that nobody has anything to say about fresh fruits and vegetables. For the fresh produce department, nutrition labeling is voluntary. Why hasn’t the retail industry heartily embraced nutrition labeling for fresh fruits and vegetables? After all, the FDA offers downloadable posters with nutrition facts for top fruits and vegetables.

 The traditional wisdom for the cold shoulder given nutrition fact labels by retailers (and produce marketers)  is that consumers know that fresh produce is healthy already and don’t need a nutrition facts label to tell them so.

But some consumers do want more. Here is coverage by Coral Beach about a labeling study, from November 2013. From the story:

 

A key finding, according to the research report, was that consumers want larger type on larger labels, as long as it doesn’t completely block the view of the produce. They also want nutrition information.

Consumers are accustomed to seeing nutritional information in the center store and notice when it is lacking in the produce aisle, the report states. The respondents were especially drawn to commodities that presented nutrition information in a simple format on the front of the label.

 

 

TK: I think consumers would love more nutrition info, including nutrition labels, front and center in the produce aisle.

It is ironic and lamentable that one of the few food groups with nothing to hide on its nutrition label rarely bothers with it.



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