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March 2, 2010

US: Consumer body calls for labelling reform

Regulations governing food labelling and health claims in the US require more stringent controls, a consumer body insisted today (2 March).

Regulations governing food labelling and health claims in the US require more stringent controls, a consumer body insisted today (2 March).

According to a new report out from the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), food labelling regulations in the US have three primary areas of weakness. The Nutrition Facts panel “needs to be improved”, ingredient labels “need to be modernised” and health related claims need “more stringent regulation”.

The report calls of the US Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture to address these issues on a number of levels.

CSPI suggested that front of pack labelling should be used to summarise key nutritional information, using “easy to comprehend” symbols.

To improve the nutritional facts panel, CSPI said that unnecessary information should be removed; clearer – more accurate – information on calorie, fibre and sugar content should be added; the size of a serving should be specified; and prohibiting “deceptive nutrition disclosures” for large single-serving packages.

CSPI said that the ingredients list could be improved by adopting a format similar to the nutritional facts panel, grouping sources of added sugar and including key ingredients as a percentage of total weight. 

“While the FDA and the USDA have started making greater efforts to reduce the prevalence of misleading health-related claims, the agencies are merely scraping the tip of the iceberg,” the report insisted.

According to the advocacy group, the FDA and USDA should establish a “comprehensive regulatory framework” for prohibiting misleading claims, including preventing companies from making health claims based on “weak scientific evidence”, controlling “misleading” claims linked to “natural” products, and tighten the requirements for claims of “0% trans fats” and “contains whole grains”.

“The FDA and the USDA should develop regulations instead of relying only on case-bycase enforcement actions,” the report insisted. “While the latter approach may signal to the food industry that the agencies are serious about enforcing the law, binding regulations are much more likely to ensure that companies do not break the law in the first place.”

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