The FDA is asking YOU for ideas on how to improve product nutrition information on front of package (FOP) and shelves (not the nutrition panel). The goal is to enhance the
usefulness to consumers of point-of-purchase nutrition information, such as information on the principal display panel of food products (``front-of-pack'' labeling) or on shelf tags in retail stores. In particular, FDA is interested in the following: Data and information on the extent to which consumers notice, use, and understand nutrition symbols on front-of-pack labeling of food packages or on shelf tags in retail stores; research assessing and comparing the effectiveness of particular possible approaches to front-of-pack labeling; graphic design, marketing, and advertising data and information that can inform and guide the development of better point- of-purchase nutrition information; and the extent to which point-of- purchase nutrition information may affect decisions by food manufacturers to reformulate products. The goal of this front-of-pack nutrition labeling effort is to maximize the number of consumers who readily notice, understand, and use point-of-purchase information to make more nutritious choices for themselves and their families.
Be sure that the big interest groups, food manufacturers and retailer, are going to provide their input. You, as a consumer, should ask for the things you’d like to see.
We’ve seen an explosion of FOP nutrition information in the past few years, with an interesting evolution that has mostly added to the public’s confusion. At first, individual corporations created checkmarks for their independent brands. Then they joined forces to create a uniform logo, based on a combination of science and marketing scoring. That program, Smart Choices, was nixed after outrage by consumers and a letter from the FDA. Other systems, more reputable and independent, have also been developed, but none has managed to reach a critical mass of endorsers or use.
So what improvements should you ask for?
Here’s our list of top 3:
1. FDA to set the standard for what receives a healthy score, not a consortium of food companies.
2. The whole truth. Too many times, consumers are lured by a “LOW FAT” product, that has been pumped so full of chemicals, fillers, and sugar, that it is actually worse than the full fat original.
3. Re-evaluation of permissible nutrition information presented to the consumer on the front of pack – for example silly and unquantifiable claims such as “all natural”, presentation of fruit when barely non are present in the product, and in general any information that may mislead a consumer to think a product is healthier than it really is.
At the end of the day, a consumer may choose to eat whatever product she or he wants. That includes candies, gallons of soft drinks, and TV dinners. But the consumer should be allowed to make this choice based on a full information set, not warped proof that something is healthy when it is not.
In short, the FDA should use front of pack labeling regulation to increase transparency of a product’s true nature.
And while it’s at it, perhaps the FDA will listen to some of our other suggestions for improvements in the nutrition facts panel and ingredient list.
What to do at the supermarket:
Right now, we the consumers need to be the vigilant sleuths. We must carefully read the nutrition facts panel and ingredient lists, and absolutely ignore any marketing claims disguised as health advice.