Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Report: Front-of-Package Labels Should Be Standardized, Says Institute of Medicine

IOM recommends that FDA develop & implement single, standardized, easy-to-read label system to promote healthier food choices by consumers...
The federal Institute of Medicine today released a report on front-of-package (FOP) labeling for food products, a key issue in First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign. The report finds that the current labeling systems the food industry has come up--including a couple since the start of the Obama Administration--are inadequate and confusing, and consumers need better information. The report recommends that the Food and Drug Administration "develop, test, and implement a single, standardized FOP symbol system to appear on all food and beverage products, in place of other systems already in use." ONLY four items should be on FOP labels: Calories; saturated and transfats; sodium; and sugars. Check marks or stars should be used to give consumers an idea of how healthy the product is. Current labeling schemes in use by the food industry contain much more information, as well as useless phrases such as "all natural." (Above: An example of how the new system might look)

DOWNLOAD "Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating Systems And Symbols: Promoting Healthier Choices" [PDF]

"It is time for a move away from front-of-package systems that mostly provide nutrition information on foods or beverages but don’t give clear guidance about their healthfulness, and toward one that encourages healthier choices through simplicity, visual clarity, and the ability to convey meaning without written information," the Report notes.

The symbol system "should show calories in household servings on all products. Foods and beverages should be evaluated using a point system for saturated and trans fats and sodium, and added sugars. The more points a food or beverage has, the healthier it is," according to the Report. To display this, the IOM committee recommends a point system based on levels of saturated and trans fats, sodium, and sugars for evaluating food products. The points are to be indicated with check marks or stars.

"This system would encourage food and beverage producers to develop healthier fare and consumers to quickly and easily find healthier products when they shop," the report noted.

Shopping is also top on the First Lady's agenda to combat childhood obesity: Through a series of private partnerships, Mrs. Obama is battling to get supermarkets built in underserved areas across the US. Next week, she will convene a food desert "summit" in Chicago, which will focus on the issue anew.

Front of package labels are high-value ad space that food companies use to promote their products, and getting them to devote space to nutrition information that is useful has been a highly contentious debate. Read here about why FOP labeling is important, in an analysis by acclaimed nutritionist Dr. Marion Nestle.

*Image courtesy of Food Politics