Columnist wants ‘healthy labels, not stealthy labels’ on groceries

Research has shown shoppers spend an average of just 1 second looking at the nutrition labels on food packages, which lends credence to an argument that the labels need to be easier to digest in a short amount of time.

In January last year, the Grocery Manufacturers Association said its members would soon start adding nutrition information to the front of packages showcasing the quantity of calories, saturated fats, sodium, sugar and nutrients inside, writes Ezekiel J. Emanuel in a column for The New York Times: “Not much happened until September, when the GMA announced that ‘Facts up Front’ would be the theme for the initiative, and began a second public relations blitz about the forthcoming labels.”
But since then, nothing has changed. Emanuel points to failed negotiations between the GMA and the federal government that happened in fall and early winter of 2010 in which the Food and Drug Administration wanted calories, salts, sugars and saturated fats put on the front of labels. The GMA was amenable to the idea, but wanted to also post positive information about vitamins and minerals. The government balked, and negotiations fell through.
But the GMA “knew it had to do something, or risk a more stringent label rule in the future,” Emanuel writes. “So it announced its own voluntary label.” That label will be flawed, Emanuel argues, because “There is no reason to include positive information on Vitamin C or fiber along with the crucial information on fats, salt and calories. A lack of fiber doesn’t lead to the same health crisis as an overdose of salt. And including so many facts results in information overload, diluting the label’s impact. A cynic might say that is precisely what the GMA wants.”
Walmart has responded by creating its own symbol system called “Great for You,” which Emanuel says is a step in the right direction, “but if every company and grocer goes the independent Walmart way, we could end up with many different, confusing icons.” (Read more)
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