by Marion Nestle
Feb 27 2012

FDA says Facts-Up-Front is OK? reports that the FDA is now supporting the front-of-packaging labeling scheme introduced by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI).

In previous posts, I wrote that I consider the GMA-FMI Facts-Up-Front scheme to be an end run around the FDA’s front-of-package labeling initiatives, still wending their way through the glacial rulemaking processes.

Why an end run?  GMA and FMI announced their scheme minutes before the Institute of Medicine released its long awaited recommendations for front-of-pack nutrition labeling.

I interpreted this action as evidence that the food industry was trying to head off anything resembling traffic light labels that might discourage people from buying products.

The industry’s position is to support positives, not negatives.  Facts Up Front includes both, thereby confusing the message.  In contrast, the IOM’s proposal focuses only on nutrients to avoid.

According to FoodNavigator,

FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, Michael Taylor, said that the four standardized basic icons required by industry’s Facts Up Front program – for calories, saturated fat, sodium and total sugars – “would alleviate some of FDA’s concern regarding the potential for product labeling to mislead consumers by presenting only “good news” about nutrient content on the front of the package, which is the concern that the regulations governing nutrient content claims were intended to address.”

Taylor told GMA and FMI executives in the December 13 letter that if the icons were adopted by industry in a uniform manner, they “may contribute to FDA’s public health goals”.

As FoodNavigator further explains

The FDA letter stops short of endorsing the Facts Up Front program (initially called Nutrition Keys), saying that the agency intends to use enforcement discretion for some elements of the scheme, but not if companies use it “in a manner that misleads consumers”.

The use of enforcement discretion means it would be more lenient with food companies about their adherence to other regulations, as long as the Facts Up Front icons are used in a specific way.

Apparently, the FDA no longer considers the demonstrably confusing GMA-FMI labels to be worth opposing.

Could election-year politics have anything to do with the FDA’s leniency on an issue it vowed to address when the Obama administration took office?

  • Margeretrc

    Did you really think industry would not do whatever it could to head off labeling that would discourage people from buying products? Traffic lights certainly wouldn’t be good for their bottom line. Personally, I’m fine with any labeling that tells me what’s in the product, (information) but I’m not fine with any labeling that tries to influence my decision–or anyone else’s–as to whether or not to buy it, such as the OIM’s or traffic lights (manipulation). As consumers, we have the right to information, but no one has the right to manipulate us, no matter who they are or how glorified their motives.

  • Needs more color.

    I like the color of traffic lights. There is just something familiar about the green for go, yellow for hesitate and red for no-go that makes life a little easier and safer.

    I wonder what would the roads be like if the traffic lights all had the same color, but gave snippets of instructional advice on what you might like to do at an intersection?

    More people die each year from diet related problems than road accidents. Maybe someone in authority should look at the comparative stats and think about that a little harder.

  • Anthro

    Margaret, every label on every item in the grocery store is an effort to manipulate you into buying that particular bottle of shampoo or package of pasta or even a whole chicken (happy bird with a red barn in the background, for instance).

    The point of any information on any package should be to state the facts, not obfuscate them into marketing messages.

  • Margeretrc

    @Anthro, “The point of any information on any package should be to state the facts, not obfuscate them into marketing messages.” I totally agree. But as long as someone wants you to buy their product over some other companies, that is probably not going to happen. It’s our jobs as consumers to educate ourselves enough that we aren’t swayed by such marketing to buy things that aren’t good for our health.
    @EdSanDiego, without the color in traffic lights, people would certainly die. They provide control to the flow of traffic so that people don’t–as long as they obey the lights. Traffic lights on packages would be based on some government organization’s (perhaps mistaken) idea of what is healthy and what is not. The fact that people die every year from diet related problems isn’t from the lack of traffic lights on packages. Apples and oranges.

  • Margeretrc

    “But as long as someone wants you to buy their product over some other companies,” should read “But as long as someone wants you to buy their product over some other company’s and this is a free country, …” Sorry, too early in the morning.

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  • Twana

    If they’re going to do that, they should include portion size

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