Dr. Marion Nestle blogged today about the latest incarnation of nutrition labels designed for the front of food packages. The purpose of putting labels on the front of food packages is to help consumers make sense of the nutritional value of a product quickly, without having to stand and gawk at the back of a package.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, trade associations which together represent “approximately 70 percent of retail food and beverage products,” have voluntarily designed their own version of the front-of package label.1
The problem is, a standardized front-of-package labeling system is currently under review by the FDA. The FDA has asked the Institute of Medicine to make a recommendation on what to include on front-of package labels, and the process isn’t finished yet.
Usually, when an industry takes voluntary action, the motivating factor is an attempt to ward off more restrictive regulations. And this may, in fact, be the case when it comes to including “good for you” nutrients on the front of the package (see Dr. Nestle’s comments.)
But what is really unbelievable, is that the voluntary label recommended by Big Food, is MORE restrictive when it comes to sugar than what the IOM has recommended to date. Big Food is putting the total sugar content right there on the front. The IOM has recommended AGAINST putting total sugar content on the front. Here’s their logic:
• There is a lack of scientific agreement about the amount of sugars that can be consumed in a healthy diet and about potential adverse health effects of sugars beyond an effect on dental caries. Thus, it is difficult to conclude that total sugars intake is of sufficient public health concern to be included in FOP rating systems.
• Total sugars include those naturally present in fruits, vegetables, and fat free or low fat dairy products, which are considered foods to encourage.
*Despite the overall increase in calories that they provide to the American diet, at this time evidence and agreement are lacking about adverse health effects of added sugars, the exceptions being the extra calories that they contribute to a diet and their dilution of essential nutrient intake.
• An analytical test that can accurately determine added sugar content is unavailable, leaving the sharing of proprietary product formulations as the only apparent option for monitoring product compliance with established criteria.
• Added sugars are not included in the Nutrition Facts panel, so including added sugars in FOP system criteria would lead to inconsistencies between the Nutrition Facts panel and FOP symbols.
Does that seem strange to you?