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Food Label Makeovers Proposed by CSPI

Designs for New Nutrition & Ingredient Facts Labels Unveiled in Nutrition Action Healthletter


Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods have helped guide
Americans' food choices for 15 years. But in that time, companies have
cooked up a number of schemes to trick consumers about what's in-or
isn't in-packaged foods. Today, the Center for Science in the Public
Interest-the group that campaigned for the 1990 law requiring nutrition
labeling-exposes some of the tricks
that occur on the front of the label, and unveils makeovers of the
Nutrition Facts panel and ingredient lists to last for the next 15

One innovation CSPI
has long urged is the use of symbols on the fronts of packages to give
shoppers a quick snapshot of the key nutrients. (The packaged-food
industry, under pressure from the Food and Drug Administration,
recently halted its own recently adopted system, Smart Choices, which
allowed some junk foods like Froot Loops to use the program's logo.)
The FDA recently announced that it will conduct some preliminary tests to see which front-label system helps consumers the most.

CSPI is also calling on the FDA to crack down on deceptive claims
("Strengthens your immune system," "Helps Protect Healthy Joints!" and
others) and to tighten up industry-loosened definitions of "fiber" and
"all natural." Companies shouldn't be able to brag about having "0
grams trans fat!" if the item contains significant amounts of saturated
fat, says the group. And companies that boast that their foods are
"made with whole grain" should be required to disclose how much of that
grain is whole. It's often less than half, according to CSPI.

"So many packaged foods are little more than white flour,
fat, sugar, salt and additives in various combinations, yet they are
marketed as modern-day medical miracles, offering vague benefits for
virtually every part of the body," said CSPI legal affairs director
Bruce Silverglade. "The FDA has recently challenged some especially
egregious health claims, such as the exaggerated cholesterol-reduction
claims on Cheerios. But the agency should put a permanent stop to a
wide range of other deceptive claims."

CSPI's reimagined Nutrition Facts label puts a greater
emphasis on calories, and indicates when a food is high in saturated
fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, or added sugars ("added" means
sugars that do not occur naturally in fruit and milk). Only fiber from
whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables, and not faux fibers such
as polydextrose and maltodextrin, would be considered to be fiber on
the nutrition label.

CSPI also would like to see ingredient lists presented as
clearly as the Nutrition Facts panel is, as opposed to the condensed,
all-caps type often used. The new Ingredient Facts panel also would
separate the major ingredients from minor ones. And for foods with
several forms of sugar scattered around the ingredients list, those
sugars would be combined so that they would show up higher on the list
of ingredients. Percentages of key ingredients would be disclosed.

"Food marketers bring their graphic design firepower to bear
on the front of food packages, but then go to great lengths to make
their ingredient lists almost indecipherable," said CSPI executive
director Michael F. Jacobson. "The fine print shouldn't taketh what the
big print giveth."

CSPI illustrates how food labels can trick consumers and shows "before" and "after" Nutrition labels in the December issue of Nutrition Action.

Since 1971, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science.