Photo: Colin Purrington, Flickr
The fight over facts presented on the front of packages are about to come to a head. The battle has long been over the selective truths and marketing ploys that riddle our cardboard boxes, from those that tout immunity to those that give a nondescript check of approval. Now, the Grocery Manufacturer's Association (GMA) has announced a front-of-package labeling initiative that will supposedly work to "inform consumers and combat obesity," as the organization's October 27th press release states.
Too bad, though, that it actually comes after the FDA-sponsored memo from the Institute of Medicine, "recommending that FOP [front of package] symbols only mention calories, sodium, trans fat and saturated fat," writes nutritionist and NYU professor Marion Nestle in a recent article for The Atlantic Food Channel. But rather than advertise what could be bad in a product, companies would much prefer to let you know what's good about it, notes Nestle.
According to the press release from GMA, "This program will add important nutrition information on calories and other nutrients..." and "to appeal to busy consumers, the information will be presented in a fact-based, simple and easy-to-use format." We would hope they'd be fact based, but don't think this means you shouldn't look to that table on the back. Companies will focus on the nutrients they do provide, but may choose to omit those facts that can harm.
The press release adds: "In addition, details will be finalized on how to provide consumers with information on nutrients needed to build a nutrient-dense diet and on shortfall nutrients that are under-consumed in the diets of most Americans." Meaning, they're going to now attempt to teach you proper nutrition, but this information is not coming from the FDA, remember; it's coming from a company with, arguably, a significant conflict of interest.
Congresswoman and Chairwoman of the Agriculture and FDA Appropriations Subcommittee released a statement Thursday saying: "The industry's initiative on front-of-package labeling should not circumvent FDA's efforts to develop strong guidelines for the information that should be highlighted on these labels." She adds that, "in order to make any progress in combating the major public health problems caused by the obesity epidemic, an FOP labeling system must clearly alert consumers about potentially unhealthy foods."
So though that cereal box may have a more authoritative label, the fine print on the backside is always your friend. Think about it: Has anyone ever gone out of their way to tell you how bad they were for you? We didn't think so.