Food Navigator reports that the FDA is supporting the food industry’s rollout of the Facts Up Front nutrition labeling scheme (formerly known as Nutrition Keys). This front of pack (FOP) system was seen by many, including Fooducate, as a preemptive move to undercut federal initiatives. The initiative, sponsored by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, was launched with a $50 million marketing campaign to “educate consumers”.
The label itself includes 4 mandatory pieces of information, per serving:
- Amount of saturated fat and in small font the percentage of daily value
- Amount of sodium and in small font the percentage of daily value
- Amount of total sugars
It can then show up to 2 additional tidbits (usually of nutrients in which said product excels).
According to Food Navigator,
The FDA wrote to the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) in December in support of the trade groups’ front-of-pack labeling program, saying it would exercise enforcement discretion for certain aspects of the scheme. read more…
The enforcement discretion means that if food companies play nice and use the new FOP labels in a non-misleading way, the FDA would be more lenient in other labeling regulations.
What you need to know:
Big win for the food manufacturers. But what about consumers? Are we getting the short end of the stick? Again?
The problems with Facts up Front:
- Numbers without context are meaningless. In the example above, is 5 grams of saturated fat a reasonable amount for a food? The UK solved this by using color coding in its Traffic Light system. 5 grams of saturated fat would be marked as RED, meaning way high. But there are no colors here.
- Sugar value is meaningless. How many of us can translate 14g to teaspoons? Secondly, 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. 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 that 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.
- If the food industry would really like to help consumers, how about informing consumers about total calories per package, in places where the entire pack is consumed as a single portion. For example, a standard vending machine size soft drink bottle contains 220 calories (mostly from sugar). But in a serving size of 8 fl oz, only 90 calories are presented to the thirsty consumer.
The Institute of Medicine, which has no financial interests in one scheme or other, recommended a simpler, more pro consumer approach. But it has largely been ignored. Too bad.