by Marion Nestle

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

Jul 28 2022

Front of pack labeling: Nutri-Score

Since I’ve figured out how to enbed videos, you might want to take a look at this one.

This one is about Nutri-Score, a front-of-package labeling system that started in France but is used in several European countries.  The system balances the healthful and unhealthful aspects of processed foods, and assigns a composite color-coded score, from A (very healthy) to E (oops), and from green to red.

Once you know how the system works, you can easily figure out which ultra-processed foods are best avoided.

The video is in French with English subtitles (but also comes in French without subtitles or with Spanish subtitles).

For more about Nutri-Score go here and here.
For what I’ve written previously about Nutri-Score, go here.

Apr 6 2022

The FDA says it’s working on “healthy”—symbol and rules

The FDA is issuing yet another notice about consumer research on a symbol for “healthy.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is issuing a 30-day procedural notice on the preliminary quantitative consumer research it plans to conduct on voluntary symbols that could be used in the future to convey the nutrient content claim “healthy”…while at the same time developing a proposed rule that would update when manufacturers may use the “healthy” nutrient content claim on food packages.

It’s déjà vu all over again.

I went right back to what I wrote on  January 1, 2016.

**** Here’s what I said back then:

FDA: What is happening with front-of-package labels?

The FDA issued its final rules for the Nutrition Facts panels, but now I want to know: What ever happened to its front-of-package (FOP) initiatives?

The New York Times editorial on the new food label raised this very question.

But the labels, which most food companies will have to use by July 2018, still have serious limitations. They require busy shoppers to absorb a lot of facts, not all of which are equally important, and then do the math themselves while standing in the grocery aisle. And the labels are on the back of the package, where only the most motivated shoppers will look.

The editorial refers to the FDA’s front-of-package initiatives early in the Obama administration.  These involved two reports from the Institute of Medicine.  The first, released in 2010, examined about 20 existing front-of-package schemes cluttering up the labels of processed foods and evaluated their strengths and weaknesses.  It recommended that FOP labels deal only with calories, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium.  My question at the time: why not sugars?  The committee’s answer: calories took care of it.

But the IOM’s second report in 2011 included sugars and recommended a point system for evaluating the amounts of it and those nutrients in processed foods.  Packages would get zero stars if their saturated and trans fat, sodium, or sugars exceeded certain cut points.

The Times editorial explained what happened next:

the Grocery Manufacturers Association [GMA] called the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation “untested” and “interpretive.” Along with the Food Marketing Institute, it developed its own front-of-package labeling system, which includes some useful information, but is more complex and less helpful than the institute’s version.

As I stated at the time, the FDA let the GMA get away with this and has said not one more word about front-of-package labels.

According to the Times, the FDA is still studying the matter.

it’s not clear when or if the agency will require front-of-package labels. The food industry, of course, wants to make its products appear as healthy as possible. The F.D.A. would serve consumers best by taking the Institute of Medicine’s good advice and putting clear and concise nutrition labels right where most shoppers will see them.

It certainly would.  It’s time to take those IOM reports out of the drawer and get busy writing rules for them.

****So here we are six years later:

I can’t wait to see what this symbol is going to look like.  The mind boggles.

Mar 25 2022

Weekend reading (in French): Mange et Tais-Toi

Serge Hercberg.  Mange et tais-toi: Un nutritionniste face au lobby agroalimentaire. HumenSciences 2022. 285 pages.


The author sent me a copy of this book in optimistic overestimation of my ability to read French.

Well, I can translate the title at least and it’s a great one: Eat and Shut Up: A Nutritionist Faces (Confronts?) the Agribusiness Lobby

But I’d really appreciate an English translation of the book, even though articles in English are readily available.

With that acknowledged, Hercberg is well known for his development and promotion of Nutri-Score, a front-of-package rating system used in Europe.

The letter grades are assigned on the basis of a composite score of healthy (vitamins, fiber, etc) and unhealthy (salt, sugar, etc) components.  They range from from A excellent to E best to avoid.

You can easily imagine that producers of products with low grades dislike this system.  Hercberg’s book, a memoir of his early career, describes his later work in the context of food industry efforts to block use of Nutri-Score.

While I’m on the topic, here are a few recent articles.

 

Jan 20 2022

Mexico confiscates improperly labeled kids’ cereals

What a concept!  A government cracking down on illegally labeled Kellogg kids’ cereals, lots of them.

The Associated Press report of the matter, widely reproduced, does not say which cereals or show photos of the ones that were seized.

Mexico has seized 380,000 boxes of Corn Flakes, Special K and other Kellogg’s cereals, claiming the boxes had cartoon drawings on them in violation of recently enacted laws aimed at improving children’s diets.

These laws put warning labels on foods and beverage high in calories, sugar, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, artificial sweeteners, and caffeine.  These cover practically all ultra-processed foods.

At the same time, restrictions were placed on the advertising of unhealthy products to children, so that products with warning labels cannot be advertised to children or use cartoon characters.

I’m wondering if some of the seized products violated the law by having cartoons on the package, like this one.

Here is what the boxes of sugary cereals are supposed to look like now.

I want to know more about what got seized.

But how terrific that the Mexican government is taking this public health measure seriously.

Felicidades!

Dec 8 2021

The FDA plans to define “healthy”

Healthy food? What’s that?

The FDA is working on a definition of “healthy” on food labels.

Blame KIND bars for all this.

The chronology of this saga.

2015: KIND puts the word “Healthy” on the labels of its whole-food bars.  FDA issues warning letter to KIND because its labels do not meet the requirements to make health claims.

2016: FDA reconsiders, says KIND can use “healthy.”   FDA issues request for information and comments on Guidance for Industry: Use of the Term “Healthy” in the Labeling of Human Food Products.

2017: FDA says it will reevaluate use of the term; holds public meeting on how to redefine the term “healthy” as a nutrient content claim.

2018: FDA’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy includes defining the term.

Healthy” is one claim that the FDA believes is ready for change, and we have already signaled our intention to update the criteria for this claim. The Agency is considering how to depict “healthy” on the package so that consumers can easily find it. Similarly, the FDA has also received requests for clarity on the use of “natural” in labeling. Just like other claims made on products regulated by FDA, we believe the “natural” claim must be true and based in science.

2019: The FDA proposes, and OMB approves, focus group review of a “healthy” icon on food packages.

As one of the methods for achieving this step of the Action Plan, the FDA is exploring the development of a graphic symbol to help consumers identify packaged food products that would meet an FDA definition for “healthy.” The symbol would be voluntary, allowing packaged food companies to place it on their products if the products meet the FDA definition of “healthy.”

2021: FDA again sends proposal to redefine “healthy to OMB, and announces further research on developing a ‘healthy” icon.

Nutrient Content Claims, Definition of Term: Healthy: The proposed rule would update the definition for the implied nutrient content claim “healthy,” and would revise the requirements for when the claim “healthy” can be voluntarily used in the labeling of human food products. In a separate but related action, on 7 May 2021 the FDA issued a notice in the Federal Register announcing that it is conducting preliminary quantitative consumer research on symbols that could be used in the future to convey the “healthy” claim on packaged foods.

The FDA has not said what definition it is considering.  I can think of three possible options:

  • Nutrient-based: Below some level of sugar, salt, calories, or whatever
  • Food-based: Must contain a fruit, vegetable, or whole grain
  • Process-based: Must be unprocessed, processed, or minimally processed; cannot be ultra-processed

Anything other than process-based is too easy for food companies to game.

Center for Science in the Public Interest has plenty of concerns.

Allowing some products to carry a ‘healthy’ claim because they contain a minimal amount of a fruit, vegetable, or other recommended food would just make it easier for veggie chips and ‘fruit’ snacks to compete with fresh fruits and vegetables…No matter how FDA defines the term, consumers should realize that manufacturers will mostly be interested in using ‘healthy’ for marketing purposes—to sell you more processed food that you may not need.

The voluntary nature of the “healthy” symbol also raises questions.  If a food label does not use the symbol, how will anyone know if it’s not there because the product does not meet the definition of “healthy” or if its maker just chose not to use the symbol?

On “healthy,” whether word or symbol: stay tuned.

Mar 31 2021

Soda taxes in Latin America

The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) has produced a report on soda taxes in the region.

What’s happening with soda taxes in Latin America is impressive.

Soda taxes, no matter where they are, seem to be doing what they are supposed to:

Latin America is a model for Dietary Guidelines (Brazil) and front-of-package warning labels (Chile).

Wish we could do these things.

Oct 16 2020

Good news #5: Mexico’s public health nutrition actions

The Mexican state of Oaxaca became the first to ban the sales of junk foods to children under the age of 18.

The state of Tabasco did the same.

A dozen other Mexican states are considering similar actions.  The rationale is clear: the health consequences of obesity in general and with Covid-19 in particular.

One-third of Mexicans aged 6 to 19 are overweight or obeseaccording to UNICEF. They may not be disproportionately affected by COVID-19 now, but they can suffer myriad health issues, especially in adulthood.

And Mexico’s new warning labels are now in effect and will be required for all packaged foods by the end of the year.

Mexico has been able to implement these measures despite overwhelming food industry opposition.

How?  I credit the outstanding advocacy work of the Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health and the consumer coalition, Alianza por la Salud Alimentaria.

Oct 10 2018

French National Assembly issues tough report on ultraprocessed foods

An article in FoodNavigator.com got my attention.  It said the French food industry was outraged by a report from the French National Assembly calling for actions to make heavily processed (“ultraprocessed”) foods healthier.

The Assembly issued its non-partisan report in two parts:

The report includes recommendations for a wide variety of measures to improve the food supply, especially for children.

With respect to ultraprocessed foods, the report is tough.  It provides evidence that the industry’s voluntary measures to improve the nutritional quality of its products are neither adequate nor effective.

Therefore, the Assembly proposes measures like these:

  • Limit the number of additives that can be used in processed and ultraprocessed food products; require them to be labeled.
  • Introduce regulations limiting the salt, sugar, and trans fat content of processed foods.
  • Restrict TV and other electronic marketing of products likely to harm the health of children.
  • Guarantee the quality of food marketed overseas by restricting their sugar content.
  • Make food education compulsory from pre-school on; include school meals in the education program; train teachers and staff.  This applies to all schools by 2019-2020.
  • Implement Nutri-Score* on all processed and ultraprocessed food products produced in France.
  • Require labeling of origin for processed and ultraprocessed products.
  • Distinguish artisanal from industrial pastry products with a “made on site” label.

*Nutri-Score, as I have previously discussed, is a front-of-package labeling scheme that awards a letter grade to processed foods based on a combination of its desirable and undesirable nutrients (A is healthiest).

Image result for nutri score

No wonder French food companies are upset.  The French National Assembly wants to hold them accountable.