Complete Transparency In New Food Labeling

Oct. 24, 2013

A few weeks back we ran a news item on VendingMarketWatch about a new piece of legislation called the Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2013 introduced by Representative Frank Pallone, D-N.J. The H.R. 3147 Food Labeling Act would give the FDA more authority in the area of food labeling, ensuring that all packaged food would be required to have a principal display panel - located on the product package - with nutrition information that reflected overall nutritional value of the food. Sounds a lot like the food labeling we have now, but let me explain why this updated legislation might not work the way we think.

Current food label: just doesn’t work

Food labels as we know them are essentially unhelpful, unless consumers know how to read them correctly, which most do not. The new legislation would give an overhaul to the current food labeling, which hasn’t seen a facelift in over 22 years. The call for a newer food label is the result of more and more consumers changing preferences and demanding more transparency. In one consumer report, nearly 70 percent of adults have purchased foods or beverages with clean label package claims in the past year. More people are looking for clean labels that include all natural ingredients, no artificial ingredients, no artificial preservatives, no high fructose corn syrup, organic and no artificial colors. However, clean label products - most of the time - already boast these clean label ingredients on their packaging with words like “whole grain” and “organic” in a larger print. The new food labeling system would not only highlight better-for-you ingredients, but it would also highlight the negative aspects of not-so-good-for-you ingredients.

Future food label: too much transparency?

Is there such thing as too much transparency? The new legislation would require foods containing any added color, non-caloric sweetener or added flavoring, to disclose this information on the package, sometimes even on the front. Other things required on the label as well would be a declaration of added sugar and sugar alcohols with the daily percentage of sugar the product has in it.

The legislators believe that transparency is needed, but to me (and this is a bold claim), it sounds an awful lot like the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1970 that made it law for cigarette companies to post health hazards directly on their packaging. Is this what food labeling is coming to? Essentially, for products that aren’t, well, really healthy, manufacturers will have to publicize this information right on the package.

A few things could happen: companies start paying more attention to product ingredients and then change to become healthier; consumers begin paying more attention to the labels and stop eating those products with negative health benefits; consumers continue eating these products and disregard the food labeling. My guess is that the third thing will happen. If the legislation passes the way it’s currently written, I will see, stamped right on the front of the candy bar, that it is a huge part of my daily sugar intake. But I love this product and always have, so I will peel the wrapper back, and take a bite anyway.