Saturday, March 8, 2014

Nutrition Labels: Chaos, Confusion and Coercion

As it turns out, the FDA didn't publish those final rules for menu labeling last month and the IOM didn't persuade the government to mandate new front of pack labels for packaged foods. Instead, there is a mix match of existing individual state and city menu labeling laws and states continue to send more bills on labeling to their legislatures.  Even the US Congress has a new restaurant menu labeling bill, which is attempting to rewrite the current law (the one not yet implemented or enforced).  In the new bill, lobbyists for convenience stores, entertainment venues and grocery retailers are trying to get their constituents or companies excluded from mandatory labeling.  I disagree with the entertainment venue exclusion, or any exclusion for an establishment selling foods without a label, e.g., a steam table at a grocery store or 7-Eleven.

With regard to packaged foods, I expected that the recommended update to the nutrition facts label would see years of delay, but I did not expect that a group would form to scare us into believing that being told the amount of calories and sugar in our food was a threat to our independence!  Seriously.  The group is called Keep Food Legal, because apparently full disclosure on the ingredients in the products we purchase is somehow paternalistic and threatens our individual liberties.

BTW, in more sugar news, the World Health Organization has updated its stance on limiting sugar intake (to reduce obesity and oral disease); they recommend no more than 5% of total daily calories from added sugar.  This is a little less than is recommended by the American Heart Association.  If you missed the blogpost where I introduced the sugar concerns generated from recent research, you can read it here.

Lastly, the Grocery Manufacturers Association is going full steam ahead with its Facts Up Front labels (and spending lots of money to do it).  The problem with industry front of pack labels and the individual city and state menu laws is that they are not standardized across products or states and do not necessarily have the information that is most important to us (e.g., some list total carbohydrates instead of grams of added sugar).  

That being said, I am starting to warm up to the industry sponsored front of pack food labels because I think they are the best we're going to get for a while. And the Facts Up Front labels list sugar grams and calories, which matter.  

That's my update on labels. The next blog will be about sedentary activity and why you and I should avoid it.

If you want more info on the food industry and labeling, I recommend a ConscienHealth blog post - access it here.

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