by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: FOP(Front-of-Package

Jul 5 2023

Comment now on FDA’s front-of-package label proposals

The FDA is asking for public feedback on an updated research study to decide which front-of-package labeling design will work best to help the public choose healthy fpackaged foods.

To submit comments, go here.  They are due by July 17.

I’ve written about this issue previously.

The FDA tried to do this a decade ago.  But the Grocery Manufacturers Association (now Consumer Brands Association) did an end run and volunteered to use Facts Up Front/Guideline Daily Amounts, which nobody understands or pays attention to.  The FDA caved in and let that happen.

Now countries all over the world are putting warning labels on foods high in calories, fat, salt, and sugar, most of them ultra-processed.

The FDA says it will  test 8 front-of-package label designs to see which work best in conveying healthfulness. The study materials are here and here.

Earlier, if those links don’t work, it proposed to test all of these designs.

I don’t think any of the choices is as compelling as Chile’s warning labels, which can be understood easily by children and people who cannot read.

Among the FDA’s choices, here’s my preference (it’s most like the labels from Canada and Brazil).

This still requires people to figure out what it means if the colors differ, as they do here, but surely everyone will understand that the more red boxes, the worse.

One other complaint: Since this effort started, the concept of ultra-processed has become much more prominent and is backed up by a tremendous amount of research.

Avoiding ultra-processed foods is the key message needed now.

The FDA’s proposals will take care of most ultra-processed foods, but miss the point.  Whatever the FDA chooses will be out of date no matter when it appears.

Never mind.  This is a step in the right direction.  Food industry opposition to any of it is strong.

It’s important to tell the FDA to get busy on this, and to strengthen the warning.

Write the FDA NOW!

Apr 3 2018

FDA says public health matters, promises to consider nutrition issues

Last week, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb spoke at the National Food Policy Conference in Washington, DC where he announced FDA’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy.

His speech, Reducing the Burden of Chronic Disease, specifies five areas that FDA intends to consider (meaning, at best, proposing suggestions for public comment and going through FDA’s interminable rulemaking process):

  • Modernizing health claims
  • Modernizing ingredient labels
  • Modernizing standards of identity
  • Implementing the Nutrition Facts Label and Menu Labeling
  • Reducing sodium

The documents:

My immediate reactions: sounds good, but short on commitment.

I was impressed that Gottlieb focused on public health and prevention:

We can’t lose site of the public health basics – better diet, more exercise, and smoking prevention and cessation…The public health gains of such efforts would almost certainly dwarf any single medical innovation or intervention we could discover.


I was particularly interested in two initiatives under consideration:

Front-of-package icon for “healthy”

This is to be based on a food-based definition that focuses on the healthful attributes of a food product—not, apparently, on its content of sugar, salt, or saturated fat.  Only healthful attributes?

This sounds like a highly pro-industry position, since research on front-of-package labeling is pretty clear that warning labels about unhealthful attributes (salt, sugar, saturated fat) are most effective in discouraging purchases of “ultraprocessed” foods.  The warning labels used in Chile, for example, are proving to be highly effective.

Gottlieb did not mention the the FDA-sponsored reports on front-of-package labeling performed by the Institute of Medicine early on in the Obama administration.  Those were serious attempts to develop an effective front-of-package labeling system that identified nutrients to be avoided.  The FDA seems to have forgotten about those reports.

Reduce sodium

This is the item that got the most attention.  Gottlieb said: “There remains no single more effective public health action related to nutrition than the reduction of sodium in the diet.”

OK, but if that’s true, how about ensuring that food companies gradually reduce sodium in their products, as was done in the UK.  No such luck.  Instead: “I’m committed to advancing the short‐term voluntary sodium targets” (my emphasis).

I suppose “voluntary” could work, but if sodium reduction isn’t across the board, companies will have little incentive to risk changing their formulas.

In short, Gottlieb’s words reflect modern public health thinking the good news) and it’s great that FDA is considering taking these actions (also good news).  Now, let’s see what the agency actually does.