By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow
Anyone who has ever been to the grocery store knows how overwhelming picking a product can be. When there are 20 brands of peanut butter it can be difficult to choose which one to purchase. Should you pick the one with less fat but more sugar? What about the claims that one brand is “all natural?” How much sodium is too much? This understandable confusion has given rise to a proliferation of front of package (FOP) labeling systems which ostensibly present more concise information to consumers. Unfortunately, because these systems are designed and implemented by the industry, they can often still be confusing.
This is why we have, for many years, been urging the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to adopt a mandatory FOP labeling system. In 2011, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a report on the topic, recommending a system that granted foods stars based on the amounts of fat, sugar and salt they contained. As of yet, FDA has taken no public action to implement this system. Chronically underfunded, the agency has been overwhelmed by an expanded food safety mandate in recent years and has had to prioritize those responsibilities over labeling.
The UK, on the other hand, is making inroads, having just recently introduced a system. However, they do not mandate its use and thus estimate the voluntary regime will cover 60 percent of foods. Still, this is certainly a step in the right direction. A single uniform, government-issued system provides clarity and consumer demand can pressure non-compliant companies into implementing the system. Here’s to hoping FDA takes note and moves forward with its own long-delayed regulations.