These days most people are familiar with the nutrition labels, ingredient lists, and health claims that they see on product packaging. But many are not aware of the clashes of titans that go on behind the scenes before a label regulation is mandated. It’s really exciting for a few nutrition and policy geeks (like us .
Here are two fresh examples:
1. GMO Labeling. In Washington state, GMO labeling initiative I-522 appears to have lost, following the same path of Proposition 37 in California last year. The idea is simple: mandating the labeling of ingredients that have been genetically engineered, so that a consumer can decide if she wants to buy that product or not.
In the US, most soy and corn are GMOs. There are safety concerns about GMO foods, and we believe consumers should have a right to know. In Europe GMOs have been labeled since the 1990′s, when they were initially introduced into markets.
Why did the bid fail in California and Washington? Because in the last weeks before people went to vote, they were bombarded by advertisements misleading them about the implications of GMO labeling. They were told it would lead to food price hikes. Who paid for these ads? The companies that stand to lose most – Monsanto, the developer of GMO crops and pesticides, and junk food companies utilizing GMO corn and soy. We’re talking tens of millions of dollars spent, 3 for every dollar spent to support the campaign.
2. Less Natural Labels. The Wall Street Journal reports that the use of the term “All Natural” on product packages to describe foods is waning. The reason: too many lawsuits. Food companies want to convince us that their food is healthy but there are strict regulations as to when the word healthy can be used. However, the FDA has not defined the word “Natural”, and so it may be used more loosely. That’s why many food companies will tell us that their products are “natural”.
In the last few years, class action lawsuits against companies with not so natural ingredients (GMO, high fructose corn syrup) have led to millions of dollars of fines.The result:
Only 22.1% of food products and 34% of beverage products launched in the U.S. during the first half of 2013 claimed to be “natural,” down from 30.4% and 45.5%, respectively, in 2009 according to Datamonitor. Though many Americans still want natural products, Datamonitor says only 47% view the claims as trustworthy. Read more from the Wall Street Journal
Meanwhile, the FDA is not planning to address the issue.
If you want to read more about the evolution of nutrition labeling, have a peek at our history of nutrition labels from 1862 and onwards.