Tell the FDA (and us) what you want on Food Package Labels

There is a battle brewing in the US over “front of package” claims about the healthfulness of foods. Growing debates over the clarity, complexity, and truthfulness of industry claims about food products has led the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to announce this week that they are seeking public input on ways to “enhance the usefulness to consumers of point-of-purchase nutrition information.”

Just to be clear, this is not the information contained in the nutrition box on the side of food products (which have issues of their own). The FDA is interested now in evaluating the information that companies put on the front of their packaging or on shelf-tags in stores – such as claims of “Contains Essential Nutrients”, “All Natural”, “Contains Anti-Oxidants”, “Helps Boost your Immune System”, “Helps Lower Your Cholesterol”, “0 Grams Trans Fat”, or symbols such as the “Smart Choices” check mark.

As Marion Nestle and David Ludwig point out in a recent article in JAMA, “Three
types of claims — nutrient-content, health, and structure/function — proliferated on food products” over the last 10 years. They go on that:

Another type of food labeling, endorsements of nutritional quality, began to appear in 1995, with the American Heart Association’s symbol indicating heart-healthy products low in total fat, saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol. More recently, PepsiCo, Kraft, and other companies developed self-endorsement labeling systems, and General Mills introduced nutrition-at-a-glance symbols.

Their concern with front-of-package claims is that:

Health claims demonstrably promote sales. But do they promote health? Research suggests that consumers believe front-of-package claims, perceive them to be government-endorsed, and use them to ignore the Nutrition Facts Panel. Indeed, current practices may mislead the public in several ways.

The FDA says they are interested now in assessing:

  • The extent to which consumers notice, use, and understand nutrition symbols;
  • The effectiveness of possible approaches to front-of-pack labeling;
  • Graphic design, marketing, and advertising data that guide the development of better point-of-purchase nutrition information; and,
  • The extent to which point-of-purchase nutrition information may affect decisions by food manufacturers to reformulate products.

As the FDA explains:

The goal of this front-of-pack nutrition labeling effort is to maximize the number of consumers who readily notice, understand, and use point-of-purchase information to make more nutritious choices for themselves and their families.

So here is the question for you (and me) as consumers. What information do you want on the front of food packages? Standardized protocols from the FDA on what manufacturers can say regarding beneficial health claims, and what they must admit regarding sugar, salt, fat, cholesterol, etc.? Or perhaps a simple red-yellow-green traffic light system as they are developing in Europe? Or perhaps instead a ban on all front-of-package claims?

Let us know, and then tell the FDA by July 28, 2010.

About Dara O'Rourke

Associate Professor at UC Berkeley and Co-Founder of GoodGuide.
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51 Responses to Tell the FDA (and us) what you want on Food Package Labels

  1. M'lou Arnett says:

    Placing additional and more stringent controls on the front panel labeling is a slippery slope. Yes, manufacturers must be held to a standard of truthfulness and supportability, however, excessive FDA involvement in front panel copy and claims encourages more government regulation, larger government and contributes to more "dumbing down" of products, packaging and labeling. Further, it will make product differentiation more difficult and will reduce choice for consumers. The American economy has thrived on choice. Rather than put everything in the hands o the government, let’s encourage consumers to learn to make better choices. The Good Guide is a great place for consumers to start learning and making better choices.

  2. Am Wing says:

    I think we have a two-pronged devil’s fork when it comes to product transparency in the U.S. The first is that manufacturers are not required to tell consumers what is in the products – as we know, there are several catch-all "ingredients" that the FDA allows as a carte blanche for any damn thing the manufacturer doesn’t want to disclose: "fragrance," "spices," etc. The second is that manufacturers can easily fool consumers by using so-called healthy ingredients that have been processed or obtained in unhealthy ways. For example, stevia glycosides obtained by toxic extraction processes, GMO oils (which aren’t "trans fat," so they must be healthy!), etc.

    So, what I’d like is a COMPLETE accounting of all ingredients in ANY product. No hiding behind "secret formulas." I’d also like an accounting of WHERE and HOW each ingredient was obtained. For example, "xylitol from maple wood via water extraction," or "milk from pasture-raised, organic grass-fed Jersey cows not treated with antibiotics or hormones."

    I know that industry will say this is impossible. Of course it’s not impossible but it does represent a huge change in the way they do business. Most manufacturers either don’t know or don’t care where their ingredients come from. It’s time for this to end. They are not worthy of our trust, and the only way we can make informed choices is through full disclosure.

  3. Amy Wing says:

    Oops – sorry about that – hit "submit" a bit too soon.

    The point of the above "rant" is that the front of package claims must be supported by the information contained in the ingredients list. If the claim is "No trans fats!" then there must be NO hydrogenated oils. Not "less than 1 gram per serving," but NONE. If the label says "no processed sugars," there cannot be any HFCS, for example. "All natural" should mean that the ingredients are from plant and animal sources raised the way nature intended – with their natural diet of organic food (in the case of animal products) and without the use of chemicals in processing, regardless of how much they claim to "prove" the chemicals were washed out and the product "purified." Plants will not be GMO or treated with chemicals of any sort, either before or after harvesting.

    Each FDA-approved designation should have a similar design that’s easily recognized – that way folks can distinguish an advertising claim from a health claim. I don’t think the FDA should necessarily provide approval for claims such as "lowers cholesterol" or "contains essential nutrients." These claims are quickly-moving targets and controversial to one degree or another. Best to provide FACTS to consumers and allow them to make their own decisions.

    I would also support labeling for personal and household products that would indicate a lack of all known POTENTIALLY hazardous substances. This would NOT involve the FDA’s GRAS system, which is a load of bull. It would use guidelines established by health activists (such as yourselves) and other industrialized countries, such as Canada and the European Union countries, both of which have more stringent guidelines than the U.S. For example, if the label says "No suspected or known carcinogens," or "no suspected or known endocrine disrupters," there could be none of the chemicals or elements of CONCERN. As it stands now, the FDA’s burden of proof is so lax that it cannot be trusted. Until our country takes chemical exposure seriously and bans harmful substances, manufacturers should have a system available to help consumers find the safest products available – this voluntary labeling system will encourage manufacturers to provide the safe products the public demands. Here are a few more seals that may be useful:

    No added hormones
    No GMO
    No processed corn products
    No processed soybean products
    No plasticizers

  4. Melissa Miranda says:

    Just force them all to print the ingredient list on the front of the package in 12pt font or bigger, with any ingredient that is of concern highlighted in red.

  5. We should have Full disclosure as to what is in the package, not misleading 1/2 truths.It is disappointing to know that the government allows its citizens to be poisoned. The sellers are paying our representatives to mislead us . Looking too closely at Big Business interest we discover that the game is rigged against us with collusion of the government that is charged to protect us from the powerful.
    So we can trust no one!

  6. David Roberts says:

    I want to make sure that what I’m eating is healthy. I know a little bit about food and nutrition, but am by no means a food wonk. I think labeling must weigh the demands of simplicity and ease of use (for average folks like me) against comprehensive detail (for folks who really know their stuff). The stop light examples shown on this blog seem like they would work for me, but may not provide the detail that more educated consumers desire.

    I think the one area where there is no compromise is that all packaging must be completely accurate and complete with no small print allowed. Claims that a product is "Fat Free" must indeed be true. No little footnotes that reveal that the product actually contains a small amount of fat should be allowed. If a product contains 1/4 gram of fat, then that should be the claim on the label.

  7. Dylan says:

    I believe that while nutrition facts should in some cases be more accessible to most Americans (e.g. 30 grams of fat per serving, but 7 servings in this package); companies should not be required to put additional nutritional information on the front of the package. By setting this regulation on companies, it makes the choice for the consumer. However, labels on the front of the package such as "No added hormones" should be banned unless the FDA plans to more strictly regulate food production. At the moment, many manufacturers are sneaking in trans fat or cholestorol, etc. while not advertising it on the nutrition facts on the back. If the FDA does however plan to more strictly regulate the components going into the food, then companies should be able to advertise these things on the front because it aids the company in selling its product. The best method would be to allow companies to place these labels on the front of their packaging only if the ingrediants going into their food have been checked by the FDA to be sure that the claim on the front of the package is true.

  8. I would like any product that has GMO to be listed, also certified organic.

  9. renetta happe says:

    I definitely support the more erudite expose of Amy Wang, but there is a foodie saying do not eat or drink anything that was not around in your grandmother’s era. my granny made dandelion wine and cooked vegetables out of the garden, by the season, but i only saw that as a visitor to her simple row house as a child, she was Naturalopathist without credentials, (witch in some times) but of the land. my mother an accomplished creative cook and house keeper, and weaved the lore of the land in to what she did. If one put the back panel on the front and every one understood what that meant. That might be huge. If indeed the information is true. WE have to eat, but it is about food choices. Michelle Obama visited a garden in my neighborhood and the news was saying their were no markets for fresh vegetables. let me tell you that is the total un truth. this neighborhood has all kinds of markets. from the Hispanics Murphy’s market with much fresh produce, meats etc to the smaller ethnic african, and asian markets. They just are not Ralph’s, Von’s etc. l I really felt we got blasted, and I do not know why? There is so much fresh produce here, but there is so much advertising contra! that is the issue. We even have a Saturday farmer’s market!

  10. TK says:

    Would be nice to know what "natural flavors" mean because with various companies it can mean different things. For some one on a diet of a "better choice" some of the "natural flavors" from some companies don’t fit my particular "better choice" value, and that should be laid out. Otherwise, my current "better choice" illuminates ANY product that doesn’t specify what they mean by "natural flavors" and these store brands are losing my purchasing budget.

  11. Bill Eger says:

    If I don’t trust the healthiness of a product, I don’t buy it. Some sort of gimmick signal on the front won’t change any dangerous nutritional issues not required to be revealed.

    Frankly, I trust government less in these matters than I do the food industry. More expense at the processor end is to be avoided. Besides, my family eats fresh foods as much as possible, from the produce sections, dairy, etc. There are no warnings there to speak of and yet there is much danger in some farm production and harvesting methods.

    I didn’t ask to be born into a cocoon and I would rather organizations such as "GoodGuide" take it easy on their expectations of perfection in life. It isn’t there and you won’t create it.

  12. I think packaging should be required to disclose "Contains no GMO ingredients" and "Contains GMO ingredients."

  13. c carrig says:

    As an informed shopper I watch labels and ingredients pretty closely. My biggest complaint recently is the "no sugar added" in a large font on the front of a package that goes along with tiny font warnings on the back regarding artificial sweeteners. (Specifically on apple sauce, canned fruits, and hot chocolate for example.)

    I’d also like to see comparisons to standard products posted on labels. Something similar to what they do for cars regarding mpg and emissions. As an example soup is generally high in sodium. Some soups are higher or lower than average and this should be much easier to identify without having to hold 5 cans side by side. What do you do if you are in a small corner store with little or no selection?

  14. Eva says:

    1. Clearly labelled if GMOs are used
    2. No hormones
    3. Where exactly the product is from city, state, country (or where the primary ingredients are from for more complicated food products)
    4. Organic rating
    5. CO2 footprint rating
    6. I like what Amy Wing said
    7. Strict regulation of fuzzy words like "All-natural" or "natural"
    8. The Good Guide rating system on each product

  15. M’lou Arnett argues for less information and states that our economy has been thriving on choice. Choice is impossible without full information, which we do not have. The levels of obesity and our poor health ratings suggest that while the ‘economy’ may be booming for agri-business, and "Food, Inc." they are better at manipulating the public into poor choices, than providing food that supports a healthy population AND a healthy economy.

    We are easy to manipulate with grand slogans on substandard food. The Smart Choices check mark is a good example: I’ve written more extensively on this program here: http://virginiahammon.com/2009/09/05/doughnuts-or-froot-loops-%E2%80%93-our-health-is-at-stake/

    I like the British light codes. It’s useful to take the basic nutritional areas and give people easy to see information about a product. I’d also like to have the full information that Amy Wing would like to see on packaging. That’s really the only way I can make a truly informed choice. Currently I’m asked to assume that manufacturers share my values about nutrition and have my children and grandchildren’s best interests in mind. That’s a hard assumption to swallow.

  16. Nancy Baron says:

    I’m afraid that I’m very cynical when it comes to front of the package claims. They can to too easily manipulated by manufacturers and too easily misunderstood by consumers. Reading the ingredients and the nutrition panel, while cumbersome, is really the only way to understand what you are buying. Even the traffic light system referenced in the post has many drawbacks. For example, it doesn’t distinguish between natural sugars and HFCS. It also seems you could have a product with all greens, that while low in sugars, fats, and salts, is also completely devoid of any nutritional valued. In this case, somebody might be mislead into thinking they are feeding their family something healthy, when in fact they are just feeding them highly processed fake food.

    I could be open to a labeling system that brought into the mix positive healthy attributes, such as true nutritional value, level of processing, organic, added sugars, GMO, etc. But, in the end a labeling system like this may get so complicated that it’s really just easier and more useful to read the nutrition panel and ingredients list.

  17. Christal Brock says:

    I totally agree with Amy! The question should have been more of, "What DON’T you want to see on food labels?" Like synthetic ingredients, additives, preservatives, potentially hazardous ingredients.

    Food should be MINIMALLY hand processed, not stripped of any & all nutrients. Too many rely on heavily processed convient foods & wonder why they are over weight, obese, have health problems as long as your arm. And the FDA thinks everything can be cured with a pill, putting you more endanger of harmful side effects. Doesn’t any know anymore that freshly prepared meals, in the right consistency, is very health beneficial? No, because all you have to do is turn on the television & you get this happy family eating a highly processed meal right from the microwave!

    The government also has their hand in the media on what they want you to see & hear & think. To make you think, that’s just how it’s to be, let our family look like that family & we can be happy too if we eat that or take that drug. I do understand the hospital & doctors are there to help you in emergency situations, but when do they say, "Now this prescription is only for short-term, you need your eating & exercise habits for long term health."

    And what about the right start in life for babies & children? I believe they mostly get the worst start in life with the very highly processed foods!!! Formula is exactly what it says, FORMULA! Formulated in a laboratory, there is NOTHING natural about it! Where are the commericals & doctors where they are showing breastfeeding & feeding your children REAL food or to encourage you to make your own?! And you wonder why health in the United States is getting worst?! Too many are only looking out for themselves & how much money they can get, no matter who is harmed in the process.

    Don’t get me started on soy! It is way over used! Who ever thought soy was a good filler ingredient knew what they were thinking, "We’ll add this to everything, even though it’s not organically grown & has estrogen mimickers. We’ll give people even more health issues and I’ll make millions!"

    The government doesn’t care about labels, they only care about who they can pay off so they can make more money.

  18. Deb Tinney says:

    I like the traffic light system Europe has developed. Always remember KISS (keep it simple stupid.) People will see the colors, easy to understand, requires minimal thought, and knowledge. It would be nice to know where meat originates (what slaughterhouse or feedlot.) I would like a clear definition on organic. I would like to know when fruits and vegetables were harvested.

  19. Karen Reinbold says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Amy. Full disclosure of all ingredients and their sources coupled with labeling for potentially harmful ingredients. Perhaps this labeling could be implemented using the traffic light system, mentioned above, to help consumers understand the degree of chemical/substance exposure in each product.

  20. janieinMN says:

    well said Amy 🙂
    i RELY on the "organic" and "all natural" labels because i have SEVERE multiple chemical sensitivities as well as some severe chemical allergies… the ingredient lists are always so small (my husband, who does all the grocery shopping, cannot read them very well)… so the labeling on the front in regards to its origin (organic, natural) is VITAL… i rely on it being ACCURATE.

    i would also like to see LATEX included as a major allergen that must be listed in the allergy alert label section (with wheat, gluten, peanut, milk, soy, etc). most of the food manufacturers are now using latex gloves somewhere in their facility and/or their ingredient suppliers use latex gloves. latex proteins contaminate the food BOTH thru direct touch from someone wearing latex gloves AND thru the airborne latex-contaminated dust that settles on anything, everything & everybody (including manuf facility ventilation systems)… contaminating the foods.

    this labeling should say whether latex gloves are in use AND whether there is any latex in the packaging (ie cold adhesives currently contain latex!!).

    i have anaphylaxis reactions to latex-contaminated-foods.

  21. Naomi Frucht says:

    The traffic light system makes good sense to me. Not everyone has the luxury of spending hours in the supermarket trying to decipher labels.

  22. Lydia Spitzer says:

    I am in TOTAL agreement with Amy Wing. I also understand that since large manufacturers basically own the government, our chances of getting them to be truthful and honest to the point of full disclosure are probably slim to none. I remember when the redefinition of "natural" came up for review. That was laughable, except it’s not funny the way the food industry is making money by running vast uncontrolled chemical experiments on consumers, with no interest in the outcome other than the profit that corporate laws require corporations to make.

  23. Shannon Morgan says:

    I would like to know if a product contains glutamic acid since this sneaks in under so many different names, even under the general label "Natural Flavors." I am irritated to have to call a company if I want to know what their "natural flavors" are. So many people are sensitive or even severely allergic to MSG and all of us are adversely affected by it since it is an excitotoxin, I think this would benefit consumers greatly. What a novel idea: have companies actually tell us what we are eating!

  24. Serene C says:

    I want to be able to source the ingredients (geography) and know when GMO’s are present.

  25. Christina Dunn says:

    As a consumer I have the right to know if my food gas been genetically modified in any way. Specific labeling needs to occur with reference to the amount of preservatives that are in food. Labels need to clearly state that the produt contains hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup . Clear labeling for GMO foods!!!!!!!!!!!

  26. Anne Norman says:

    I dislike claims on the front of the box. Even simple numbers can mislead; I still can’t remember the difference between "No trans fat!" and "Zero grams trans fat!" given that plus-or-minus half a gram of fat need not be disclosed (as I understand it).
    If the manufacturers really want to include such information, perhaps it could be mandated that it not appear on the front of the box, and must be in type no larger than that used in the Nutrition Information box.

  27. Nathan Kapner says:

    I am for a total ban on any front-of-package claims.
    Make the Nutritional Panel information more standardized and allow the people that care about what they’re inqesting use this standardized pane.
    The ingredient list needs to be more standardized. The food manufacturers use different names for same ingredients.
    It’s almost imposssible to use the ingredients list to identify a Whole Wheat or Whole Grain bread product.

  28. Sharon Hicks says:

    I think those "false claims" and fancy wording should not be allowed. I’m so tired of it being so difficult to compare products and ingredients. The stop light method seems to be a good easy system, but not sure. Also, I’m skeptical about the new idea of having restuarants list calories on their menus. I was recently at a Bob Evans and they showed the calories on their "light" items only. Well, they were obviously the light choices so how does the consumer benefit from that. they certainly didn’t show the calories on their mashed potatoes and gravy but what benefit is that direction for the consumer???? Thanks for asking!

  29. Pat says:

    I need to kown information about salt, fats and carbs in large print on the front of the can, this would cut my shopping time way down and allow me to do other things.

  30. Roxanne Glass says:

    I believe there should be actual amounts shown of fat, calories, etc. The green, red, or yellow dots don’t mean a thing. Actual figures do.

  31. Ken Kerrigan says:

    Easy to read icons, a peanut shape for products with peanuts or made in the same machine peanut products were made in. A flag for nation of origin, a simple 6 sided star for Kosher and a crescent for Halal goods. There are needs for vegan, vegetarian, ovo and lacto vegetarians, go wild!

    But it must allow for the producer to promote their product with the design on the box, so it cannot take away from that, the original design. Maybe in the spirit of full disclosure, maybe a half inch band in the front at the bottom of the package, can or bag, I’d say give a choice as to the color as long as it contrasts with the packaging, the band could be a variant of the red, yellow, green they have in Europe and the simple to understand icons would have to contrast the band for easy reading.

  32. Tim Warner says:

    I think genetically modified fruits and vegetables as well as foods containing GMOs’ should be clearly labeled as such (much like milk with growth hormones). We have a right to know how the food we consume has been processed or altered as it affects our health.

  33. NYC says:

    The extent of government involvement by this administration is become worrisome however in the case of food ingredients/labeling I think some enforcement and standardization would be helpful. I would keep the rules simple: If I ingest this product what will I be eating exactly? If the producer of this product claims it does something other than provide nutrition, the producer must be able to prove the claim to the FDA before labeling. No more, no less. The idea that some ingredients are reclassified as processing elements and are left off of the label is disingenuous.

  34. Julie L says:

    How about a simple rule: if a food has been processed (and let’s face it, not all but certainly MOST edible things that come inside a packaged container have been processed), it should have a big label on the front of the package: "CONTAINS PROCESSED FOOD. WARNING TO CONSUMERS: PROCESSED FOOD IS LESS HEALTHFUL THAN UNPROCESSED FOOD". This idea follows the cigarette-labeling laws about warnings in big bold print on the front of the package.

  35. Hollly Olivo says:

    I think its wonderful that the FDA is finally trying to do their job a little bit, however, since they have been letting Americans down with their lax standards since the 1940’s I have little faith. I think a faster solution is to focus on consumer education and awareness, as well as supporting the few companies that are using the transparent approach. I think good guide is doing a great thing by providing a practical tool for consumers who want to know the personal, environmental and social impact of the products they are purchasing. If we could have more tools like this and more information, we can see through the packaging. In all areas of industry, the seller makes their product seem better than it is. We cannot expect the food industry to suddenly grow a heart of gold and become transparent overnight. If consumers show with their purchasing power that this is what they demand, then companies will be motivated to change. Again, this is the FDA’s job to provide guidelines preventing fraudulent claims on food but they clearly have been slacking off and letting the food industry boss them around for 70 years, so I’m not convinced they are going to make real progress now.

  36. Melissa says:

    I’d like to see mandated country of origin labeling for ingredients, especially since both organic and conventional growing standards vary dramatically from nation to nation.

  37. Above comments are well taken, and keeping government from complicating matters is an important issue to consider. It should be easy to find foods lacking the allergens which you need to avoid, such as gluten or yeast free products, with color codes, large or uniform marking, and without having to read labels down an entire isle of a food store. Pertinent rather than just routinely required ingredient labeling should be the norm; sugar content of a fish oil product is usually unrelated whereas EPA and DHA content are left out.
    Accurate labeling of potential allergens included in any of the process should be routine. That means not just putting "thickener" on the list for a gluten-based thickener, but rather carrying through the name of the key ingredient. What is key is getting the truth of what is in the product on the label, so that consumers can chooses wisely without being harmed by what is obscured.

  38. Merry Amrine says:

    What a nightmare purchasing food has become for those of us unable to tolerate food additives – especially free glutamates. I need clear honest labeling in order for me to make my shopping selections. "Natural seasonings" just doesn’t work for me. In a free market we should have the information we need to make our decisions. This full court press to obscure MSG and all of it’s relatives is not honest dealings with the consumer. I have to strain to read the smallest possible fonts, looking for any one of dozens of ingredients, that are all in fact, free glutamates.

    My health, and the health of people just like me who have become enviornmentally sensitive in this poison-laden world, depends upon knowing what I am asking my body to filter.I would very much like to see a "Contains free glutamate" label on the front.

  39. Dee Joyce says:

    This country is based on a bunch of falsehoods. We were supposed to be the most powerful country in the world, yet our own people are poisoning us to death! A slow death perhaps, but certainly death. We all need to be label readers, AND do our homework. I can’t begin to tell you how many foods have made me sick. I am blind to all of the propaganda… There is very little that I can eat. Yet, almost every day, I read something that tells of the hidden ingredients or the process by which things were made. In MY opinion, I feel that our government is to blame for so many of our ills. The FDA allows things to be covered up! Is it because of kickbacks? Take a look at our food pyramid that we used to have. Why was grain put as the most ingredient? Years later, we are finding that so many people are gluten sensitive or intolerant! Who did THAT study? I often wonder if one hand washes the other… Is the medical system somehow linked to the Govt. so that if they keep us ill, we can keep the pharmaceutical industry going… or our health care providers busy? We can demand truth in labeling, but do you really think we will get it? Where can you find truth in anything else? It is disgusting how we, as a nation, are treated in the field of nutrition! The chemicals they allow are killing us… Why do other countries have the intelligence to ban them, yet we don’t? Full disclosure…. truth in labelling…. we can’t even count on our leaders to be truthful! Sad state of affairs we are in.

  40. Clare Worley says:

    I moved to the US about 18 months ago from the UK and can honestly say I have been utterly appauled by the seemingly non-existent rules as far as food labelling goes in the US – it is scary, and I am now magnitudes of times more concerned about what I eat than when I lived outside of the US – I read labels on virtually everything I buy. You only have to watch a documentary like ‘Food, Inc’ or read a book like Eric Schlosser’s ‘Fast Food Nation’ to realise that the wool is being pulled over everyone’s eyes here, and the public ignorance that results is certainly not bliss – it is contributing to health and social problems in a big way. The amount of processed foods here (that you can get a huge selection of foods such as fully cooked omlettes or burgers out of a freezer in a supermarket to heat up for dinner is insane) that contain all sorts of additives, notably corn syrup (did you ever try and find something processed that didn’t have that stuff in – maybe the corn subsidies should be stopped so we don’t need to invent uses for the stuff) is disturbing.
    I therefore think that labelling foods honestly and clearly is definitely the way to go. I appreciate that a lot of people in the US are very concerned about overt Government intervention and I respect that view, but personally I do not think that labelling foods clearly as to their contents is too much intervention – it still leaves the consumer free to make the decision of what to buy and eat. I just see so many people who NEVER seem to look at the ingredients on products – they are too busy, they trust the food companies to give them healthy food (you shouldn’t do this!), they only look at the price tag as they don’t have much money, etc, etc. So I think that if clear labelling was placed on the front of foods (the traffic light system being implemented in the UK seems to be very clear) it would dispell some of the myths some people seem to hold about foods. For example, "If it says ‘All Natural’ it must be good for me" – as I understand it, you can put ‘All Natural’ on any food you like as it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just empty words. All these kinds of phrases that have no real meaning should not be allowed as it just gives consumers an excuse to kid themselves that they are buying something that’s good for them, eat it to excess, and then wonder why they are obese or have diabetes or heat problems further down the line…
    Having said that, I am very sceptical of a lot of the organisations that I thought were meant to be regulating businesses and safeguarding consumers in the US as they are often run by executives from the companies they are regulating so they have a vested interest in making sure they get to carry on as they are. A clear, honest labelling system on the front of all foods would only be worthwhile if it was just that – clear and honest. The levels of high/medium/low salt, fat etc would need to be set by professionals in the health industry and mandatated. It would be a meaningless system if the food companies were allowed to set these levels themselves and they weren’t standardized across the board. Just because I see a red traffic light on the front of a product doesn’t mean I won’t buy it – it just means I am aware that it contains a lot of salt/fat or whatever, and I bear that in mind.
    Hope this hasn’t been too much of a ‘rant’ – just trying to get all my thoughts across!

  41. Bart Kohnhorst says:

    Tough question. So much to write. Not enough time.
    The policy debate on how to best address food labeling seems so often divorced from consumer needs. In the attempt to address every situation or all needs the information we get as consumers is often so bland and useless. At the same time, kids are now taught in school how to read the labels. But they do not do the shopping. And which hurried parent is going to compare all the labels on every item they buy at the grocery store? And then also, our food supply chain has become so tainted. Should we have to list all the possible ingredients the meat industry uses, that may or may not be on an item?
    If I had an independent trusted body to rely on though, then I’d like the packaging to identify good ingredients, neutral and bad. Also to provide info on the overall benefit or detriment to my health the item will have. I would need to have some sort of reference scale. At the same time, I am totally fed up with the marketing claims on consumer packaging that take a tiny benefit and blow it up to being a major win for anybody consuming the item. Quantify the health claims and do not allow the lies.
    HEY! Trusted body. Hmmmm – Good Guide, are you volunteering?

  42. Regina Ridge says:

    I echo Amy Wing’s great explanation of what the discerning consumer wants on their packaging! Unless the US delegation at the Codex meetings stops its insistence on non labeling of GMO’s, though, good luck. I read the transcripts. They are behind the non labeling contingency there.

    I want the FDA to stop telling companies like Diamond Walnut and cherry producers that their products are drugs and things like Doritos are healthy. Please stop this terrible practice. I think the FDA is one of the most corrupt agencies in our government because it is in bed with those they are supposed to regulate. This is how one of the most harmful substances was able to be put on the market–aspartame. Please, FDA, take it and fluoride off the market now! Codex needs to be dismantled immediately! Saying that nutrients are toxins shows just how much they care about humanity.

    Labels on products: Everything that is in the product needs to be on the label, especially: Fluoride (fluorine) and anything that has it as an ingredient, esp. if made with floridated tap water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, anything genetically modified (GMO), MSG (don’t go hiding behind hydrolyzed vegetable proteins and the like,
    any chemical used in the making or processing or packaging, irradiation (don’t irradiate our food, please), nano particles or other weird stuff, whether it is Organic (don’t go messing with our Organic standards), whether or not it has Rbgh or any other hormones or antibiotics, Plasticizers (what the heck is that?).

    Why can’t you understand that we all want pure, unadulterated foods? It isn’t rocket science, after all, but food production and processing has been turned into mad science. If you are going to keep letting this occur, then have all the petro and other chemical producers junk food companies pay for the medical benefits of every man, woman and child on the planet.

    Thank you from a very useful eater.

  43. Angela Litzen says:

    I agree with Amy. It would be great to be able to get a full list of ingredients and the sources of those ingredients but I doubt that this will ever happen! Maybe it is possible to have products post a GoodGuide rating or alternative rating system that is similar that consumers can look at and know without a doubt that a third party has inspected the ingredients and the entire "story of the stuff" as Annie Leonard would say. This would allow the consumer an easy identification method for enviro/labour/health policies. Big corporations would not like this method either as it would be more likely to wake people up to the destruction of some of the products that they mindlessly choose. I know for me, it is a time consuming process and often frustrating to try to make purchases that are low impact.
    Thanks, by the way, for creating Good Guide. It is a great resource!

  44. Patrick Beatty says:

    The most significant problem with food labe,ing is concerning partially hydrogenated vegetable oils including soybean oil, palm oil and the whole class of such items, including margarine. These oil products are not trans fats; they become trans fats when metabolized after eating. There is no safe amount of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils or their metabolite trans fats. The trans fats are toxic in any amount and repeated ingestion of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in any amount is a major factor in the development of cardio-vascular disease. Food processors are allowed to say a product contains no trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils even if they contain less than half of a gram of partially hydrogenated oils because their lobbyists bring large amounts of cash to lawmakers in our legislature.
    I am also concerned about the large amounts of high fructose corn syrup in many cereals and other highly processed foods. High fructose corn syrups are complex sugars containing large amounts of empty calories, and are implicated in causing type2 diabetes in children and adults. Again, lobbyists from corn states carry cash to congressional law makers to allow such enhancements to processed foods.
    A better explanation of why all those tocic sounding chemical such as anti-freeze and gluten and datum are in products might be another step forward towards better regulation of our food supplies. The Euro market bans GMO food products.
    for good reasons. In the U. S., it is almost a criminal offense to label a product as having no GMOs. So better regulation and transparency are both important goals.

  45. Katherine says:

    I’d go with a ban on all front-of-package claims. There’s no way a food company can distill important information about their products (good, bad, and ugly) into a quick, front-of-box message that’s consumer-friendly and also transparent. Of course, I also can’t imagine a food company WANTING that level of transparency into their products, either.

  46. Another type of food labeling, endorsements of nutritional quality, began to appear in 1995, with the American Heart Association’s symbol indicating heart-healthy products low in total fat, saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol. More recently, PepsiCo, Kraft, and other companies developed self-endorsement labeling systems, and General Mills introduced nutrition-at-a-glance symbols.

    really nice sharing thanks !!

  47. harmful substances, manufacturers should have a system available to help consumers find the safest products available – this voluntary labeling system will encourage manufacturers to provide the safe products the public demands. Here are a few more seals that may be useful: No added hormones No GMO No processed corn products No processed soybean products No plasticizers

  48. harmful substances, manufacturers should have a system available to help consumers find the safest products available – this voluntary labeling system will encourage manufacturers to provide the safe products the public demands. Here are a few more seals that may be useful: No added hormones No GMO No processed corn products No processed soybean products No plasticizers

  49. trish says:

    I agree with Amy Wing. I avoid products with vague ingredients like "natural flavors." I’d like to know what exactly I am eating, where it came from, and how it was processed as well. As far as health claims on the front of the box, it doesn’t bother me because I ignore them and go straight to the ingredients anyway.

  50. Mrityunjoy Panday says:

    Like the Energy Star ratings I would like to have. Environmental star ratings. so that people can easily figure out which one are more environment neutral. say a 9 and above rating from good guide becomes a 5 star rating. differentiation of a product will essentially remain the same with the added element of environment neutrality. If I am targeting a market segment for my product, I will find the Few factors that contribute to 99.33% of sale and then see what my competitor products are being rated on those, and just make sure my rating curve do not match, essentially defining a new market segment, where I have distinct and sustainable advantage 🙂

  51. The problem is, in terms of semantics, every company has a different idea of what ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ means. What I would like to see happen in the food industry is what is happening in some printing companies — if the printing company cannot track their supplies coming from a sustainably managed forest, they will not use it in their production line. If only we could know the exact location our food came from!

    This is a great move on the FDA’s behalf, and it is commendable they are looking for our input!

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