Proposal for consumer-friendly nutrition labeling very sensible but will be roundly condemned by food manufacturers, consumer group says

WASHINGTON , October 20, 2011 (press release) – The Institute of Medicine’s proposal is eminently sensible—and will probably be roundly condemned by food manufacturers. A simple icon with 3, 2, 1, or zero check marks would give shoppers at-a-glance information about nutritional booby traps lurking inside packaged foods.

The IOM’s proposal is far preferable to the voluntary “Facts Up Front” labeling program that the grocery industry is rushing to market. The industry hopes to preempt more consumer-friendly requirements by the FDA. The industry’s complex scheme requires consumers to consider the amounts of calories and four to six nutrients, without any numerical score or useful symbols to convey a food’s nutritional value.

It is worth noting that the IOM’s approach, like all of the systems yet developed, still has holes that the FDA would have to address. For instance, it gives no consideration to foods’ vitamin, mineral, fiber, or protein content. Also, white bread, whole wheat bread, broccoli, artificially sweetened soft drinks, and artificially colored and flavored diet Jell-O would all have top scores of 3. Still, the FDA should promptly assign a task force to develop a mandatory front-of-package labeling regulation based on the IOM’s advice.

Note: In 2006, CSPI petitioned the FDA to devise a front-of-package labeling system to supplant the proliferating systems being used by manufacturers and supermarkets. Subsequently, CSPI encouraged Congress to fund an Institute of Medicine study on front-of-package labeling, with today’s report being the second of two on the topic.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is a nonprofit health advocacy group based in Washington, DC, that focuses on nutrition and food safety policies. CSPI is supported by the 900,000 U.S. and Canadian subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter and by foundation grants.

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