USA: FDA relaxes food labelling laws (COMMENT)
The FDA has relaxed laws to allow health claims on food labels to match those of dietary supplements. With changes in the law regarding the labelling of health benefits on food products, manufacturers scramble to gain FDA approval for labels with added health claims. There are concerns that this will lead to false statements, increased consumer confusion and distrust for value-added foods. Without other safety measures, such misconducts can easily hinder the growth of the nutraceutical market.
Regulations on the labelling of dietary supplements were loosened in the 1990s and after years of lobbying, the food industry has seen its bid for parity acknowledged. Until now, only dietary supplements could advertise health claims such as a reduction in the risk of heart disease, albeit with a waver that the "FDA has evaluated the data and determined the evidence supporting the claim is not conclusive."
The weakening of regulations on dietary supplement labels resulted in many misleading claims in the 1990s. Now that food labelling laws are inline with the supplements industry, it is feared that the food industry could repeat the same 'mistakes'.
The newly relaxed regulations allow food manufacturers to list not only the healthy ingredients within their products, but also to advertise the positive effects of these nutrients. Dairy products for example, will no longer just be advertised as high in calcium - it can now be stated that drinking milk may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
The change in labelling rules is apparently expected to help Americans improve their diets. However, there is no evidence so far that the information on dietary supplements has improved the overall health of Americans. Indeed, it is more likely that the FDA proviso that "the evidence supporting the claim is not conclusive," will lead to increased confusion among the American public especially as the food industry is likely to use this clause as much as possible to get their products labelled as 'healthy'.
The outcome will be an array of food products that advertise their positive attributes alone when really what the American public needs is a truthful balance of information. A milkshake may well hold properties that could reduce the risk of osteoporosis, but it can also contain a high fat content at the same time and therefore increases the risk of heart disease. Food manufacturers are unlikely to advertise that.
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