Two interesting and interconnected pieces of news this week.
- PepsiCo settled a class action lawsuit, agreeing to pay $9,000,000 to consumers it misled with labeling on its Naked Juice Brand. See details and how to claim your $45 piece of the action here.
- The FDA announced that it is conducting a study on the effects of nutrient claims on consumers’ perception of a food’s health.
What you need to know:
Since the dawn of packaged foods, claims have been made about the qualities of that food to help sell more. Marketing. It makes sense. While “tastes great” is a subjective claim that cannot be contested, health claims require scientific backing. It was pretty much a wild west until Congress enacted the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) in the early 1990′s.
The nutrition label as we know is a result of that legislation, which also gave the FDA the oversight over this matter. See here for more detailed history of nutrition labeling. The NLEA was a compromise after years of negotiations with food industry lobbies and afforded multiple loopholes for them to continue to sell smoke and mirrors to gullible consumers. So while the side panel (Nutrition label, Ingredient list) is highly regulated by the FDA, the front of a package pretty much allows companies to healthwash their product by embellishing its nutrition qualities beyond what is really true.
- For example, Naked Juice falsely claimed that its juice is “All Natural”, when in fact some ingredients added to its smoothies were made from genetically modified soy.
- Another example is touting the nutrient content of the juice, when in fact the nutrients did not originate from the fruit and vegetable ingredients but were added separately.
There is a constant tension between cash hungry industry and regulators, and the food business is no different. Realizing that nutrition sells, every junk food company would like to add some vitamins to its stable of sugar/salt/fat products and make them seem healthier than they are.
The FDA is understaffed, slow moving, riddled with political pressures, and suffers from revolving doors back to the industry. We’ve come to expect very little from it when it comes to policing junk food lies. Smart lawyers realized there is an opportunity, and class action lawsuits against the food industry have gone up in recent years (if anyone has a graph with actual numbers, please share a link in the comments below). Instead of a-priori protection by the government, we get a measly payout 5-10 years after a junk food company made billions off of our gullibility.
So what can we as individuals do? We need to make some effort on our own to educate ourselves about what is healthy and what is not:
- Take the time to learn nutrition and food basics.
- Start reading ingredient lists and nutrition labels
- Use trusted resources online and on the go (we hope you consider Fooducate as a trusted resource too)