In January we reported on the food industry’s attempt to preempt an FDA directive on front of package nutrition labels. It was called Nutrition Keys and it was supposed to make it easier for consumers to choose healthy packaged food. Now the industry groups that invented this labeling scheme have changed its name to Facts Up Front. There is also a $50 million marketing campaign to educate consumers on the value of this labeling method.
Reminder: the label itself includes 4 mandatory pieces of information:
- Calories per serving
- Amount and percentage of saturated fat
- Amount and percentage of sodium
- Amount of total sugars
The label also includes up to 2 values for nutrients to encourage such as potassium, fiber, and some vitamins.
Why change the name of a nascent program that barely any consumer has heard of? And Why now?
What you need to know:
Today there is no law or regulation requiring manufacturers to provide nutrition information on the FRONT of the product package. Food companies do have to provide a nutrition label and an ingredient list somewhere on the pack. That somewhere is usually on the back or side.
But consumers have been complaining that the nutrition label is too confusing and makes it difficult to figure out what is healthy or not. As a result, in the past few years, there has been a bevy of initiatives trying to “simplify” things for us. You can read about the various attempts in this post that we continually update.
The industry is concerned that the government will intervene with a strict set of directives. So each time a new government report or decision on the matter is due for publication, an industry proposed solution is put out front and center.
But here are the problems with
Nutrition Keys Facts Up Front:
- There is no color coding of the nutrient info, so a consumer does not know if a certain amount of sodium or fat is high or not.
- The value for sugars is very confusing. Is 14 grams a lot or a little? Also, how much of the sugar is naturally occurring and how much has been added? Naturally occurring sugars (in fruit, veggies, dairy) at least come with additional nutrients. Lastly, there is no indication of the daily value for sugar consumption. (By the way, The 14 grams in the example above are 3.5 teaspoons of sugar.)
- Including 2 positive nutrients on the label will confuse consumers – A product high in saturated fat but also high in fiber – is it good or not? This will also encourage excessive fortification of foods just to appear healthy. You can fortify cardboard with some vitamins, it still won’t make it healthy to eat.
- There is no way to know how processed a food product is just by looking at the front of pack. Consumers should be encouraged to read the ingredient list.
What to do at the supermarket:
As usual, your only choice is to educate yourself on nutrition labels and ingredient lists. Reading and understanding them is the only way to figure out if you want to buy a food item.
(h/t to Marion Nestle)