New nutrition labels escalate war on calories

The proposed (left) and existing nutrition labels, as proposed by the Food and Drug Administration.

The proposed (left) and existing nutrition labels, as proposed by the Food and Drug Administration.

For the first time in more than two decades, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration wants to change the way nutrition labels on food packages give you information about what you eat. The head of the FDA told the New York Times Americans' eating habits – and food companies' packaging habits – have changed dramatically since the labels were first required in the 1990s:

“It’s an amazing transformation,” said Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of the F.D.A. “Things like the size of a muffin have changed so dramatically. It is important that the information on the nutrition fact labels reflect the realities in the world today.”

That reality is bigger portions, more sugar, salt, and fat in processed foods, and our on-the-go lifestyle have been fueling the world's largest obesity epidemic among industrialized countries. NCPR's membership director, exercise fanatic, and Zumba instructor, June Peoples, wrote a blog post about the nutrition labels yesterday and mentioned northern New York's above average obesity levels:

New York State’s overall rate is 25%, but it might surprise you to learn that four counties in the North Country have the highest rates of obesity in the state—rates that more closely align with Alabama and Louisiana.  Thirty-two percent of adults 20 and over in St. Lawrence, Herkimer, and Jefferson counties are obese (Body Mass Index ≥ 30) and Oswego county has the highest obesity rate in the state at 34%.  Rates like this place us at greater risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, infertility and cancer.
It's interesting to read the research on the extent to which nutrition labels even work to prevent unhealthy eating. Regardless, you can bet there'll be vast amounts of backroom dealing and industry lobbying during the FDA's 90-day comment period. Politico reports the changes can be seen as a battle in the larger war the Obama Administration is waging against the Big Food Industry:

“This administration has done more than any administration in history to make our food more affordable, nutritious and transparent. This is all part of an unbelievable record of achievement that is unmatched,” said Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs for Environmental Working Group and a former lobbyist for the food industry.

The dramatic attack on food policy has been felt by the food and beverage industry, which has spent more on lobbying the federal government under the Obama administration than ever before. Between 2009 and 2013, food and beverage companies plunked down a staggering $185 million on federal lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The FDA estimates the changes would cost the food industry some $2 billion, with a pay-off of $20 billion in economic benefit to the public.
The proposed requirement to list added sugars separately from natural sugars is expected to get the most pushback from the food industry. The Grocery Manufacturing Association has proposed its own labeling system.
Question for you: do you read nutrition labels? How important are they in determining what you actually buy and eat? Do you trust the government or the food industry to make these labels helpful?

 

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2 Comments

  1. I don't read these much and I seriously doubt that the people who probably should be reading them (the guy grabbing the bag of Doritos and a mt. dew) will ever bother.

    Does this mean that a carrot you buy will have to be over packaged so that I can read how much natural sugar it has in it. It seems only fair to require all food be labeled the same way if it is mandated by the government. Will the baguettes I buy at the farmers market need the labels? What about meat I buy from a local source or are we just picking on the farms that make the food that feeds the masses?

  2. War on calories, war on drugs, war on poverty.
    Does anyone wonder why this is a warring country when everything has to be a war?
    All this will do will help push up the cost of food and help in the war against obesity.