by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Labels

Jan 8 2019

Goodbye GMO, Hello Bioengineered: USDA publishes labeling rules

Trump’s USDA has issued final rules for labeling food products of biotechnology, commonly known to all of us as GMOs.

Since GMOs have taken on a pejorative—Frankenfood—connotation, the USDA wanted to fix that.  And did it ever.

It drops GMOs, and substitutes “Bioengineered.”

Its logo depicts food biotechnology as sun shining on agriculture.Image result for bioengineering logo usdaAnd the rules have a loophole big enough to exclude lots of products from having to carry this logo: those made with highly refined GMO sugars, starches and oils made from GMO soybeans and sugar beets.

If the products do not contain detectable levels of DNA, they are exempt.  Never mind that GMO/bioengineered is a production issue.

When Just Label It was advocating for informing the public about GMOs, this was hardly what it had in mind.

Count this as a win for the GMO industry.

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Dec 19 2018

Indexes: Ranking Systems for Sustainability and Nutrition

Two new Index Systems rank countries for sustainability and corporations for promoting health.

I.  Sustainability Index.

The Economist and Barilla have devised a new, interactive Index that ranks countries on the basis of food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture, and the ability to meet nutritional challenges.  Its scoring system goes from 0 (terrible) to 100 (perfect).

The top ten scoring countries are:

None of the scores is exemplary.  The US rank is #26.

II.  Access to Nutrition Index

The Access to Nutrition Foundation (Netherlands) ranks corporations on their strategies, policies, and actions to address obesity and diet-related diseases in the US.

The overall rankings, shown here, are relatively low.  Some do better than others on governance, products, accessibility, marketing, lifestyles, labeling, and engagement.

The highest scores are for labeling.  The lowest scores are for accessibility.

Indexes like these are useful for understanding where we are.  They should inspire us to action.

Oct 18 2018

Who is suing whom? Food politics lawsuits

FoodNavigator-USA has collected its recent articles on food industry lawsuits.  As it puts it,

There have been hundreds of class action lawsuits directed against food and beverage companies in the past five years, spanning everything from added sugar, ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ claims, to glyphosate residues, and alkaline water claims. We take a look at some high profile cases, some emerging hot topics from Non GMO claims to a new wave of kombucha lawsuits, and what’s coming up from the FDA, from plant-based ‘milk’ labeling guidance to a fresh look at ‘healthy’ and ‘natural’ labeling.

I’ve organized these into categories.

GMOs

Warnings about chemicals in foods

Compliance with labeling and health claims requirements

And here’s a more recent one from CBS News:

  • LaCroix ingredients: Lawsuit alleges “all natural” claim is falseLaCroix sparkling water is facing a lawsuit alleging its claims of “all natural” and “100 percent natural” are misleading because…”Testing reveals that LaCroix contains a number of artificial ingredients, including linalool, which is used in cockroach insecticide.”

And here’s one more from CSPI (an October 24 addition):

  • CSPI sues Jamba Juice: its juices, CSPI charges, are made from cheap concentrates as well as fresh fruit.

Addition, December 11

Aug 20 2018

USDA’s latest ideas for GMO labels

I am indebted to IEG Agribusiness Intelligence (formerly Food Chemical News) for alerting me to USDA’s latest proposals for GMO labeling—BE (bioengineered) labels, as USDA prefers.

In May, I wrote about the USDA’s initial proposals:

After dealing with 14,000 comments on them, the USDA has revised them and sent the new set to the patent office.

As the National Law Review comments notes,

Interestingly, two of the newly filed symbols include the text, “made with bioengineering,” which was not explicitly contemplated in the proposed rule. Further, the new filing do not utilize the “smiley faces” associated with proposed Alternatives [shown above], which received much attention in the comments to the proposed rule. Whether USDA adopts any of the newly filed symbols remains to be seen….

May 10 2018

FDA delays Nutrition Facts revisions 1.5 years

On May 4, the FDA gave food companies a gift when it announced a 1.5-year extension of compliance dates for the Nutrition Facts label.

We are taking this action because, after careful consideration, we have determined that additional time would help ensure that all manufacturers covered by the final rules have guidance from FDA to address, for example, certain technical questions we received after publication of the final rules, and that they have sufficient time to complete and print updated Nutrition Facts labels for their products before they are expected to be in compliance with the final rules.

On its website, the FDA now says:

The FDA extended the compliance dates for the Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts label final rule and the Serving Size final rule, from July 26, 2018 to January 1, 2020, for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales. Manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales would receive an extra year to comply – until January 1, 2021.

CSPI, understandably, is miffed:

The reality is that the labels are already on more than 29,000 products on grocery shelves, and more appear weekly.  So today’s announcement should be a call to action for companies to provide consumers the information they want now, rather than waiting for the legal deadline.

May 9 2018

USDA’s proposals for GMO labels

One picture is worth a thousand words.

Here is my favorite of USDA’s proposals for the front-of-package icon for GMO foods.

Translation: “be” means “bioengineered.”

Here are the options USDA proposes (thanks to FoodNavigator.com):

You can’t make this stuff up.

You have about 60 days to file comments.  By all means, do so.

Apr 11 2018

Will the new food label ever appear?

Remember way back when the FDA proposed updating the Nutrition Facts label?  It’s hard to keep track of the delays but the label, first proposed in 2016, is scheduled to appear in supermarkets near you by January 1. 2020 for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales and to January 1, 2021 for those below that amount.

In March, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced new guidances for perplexed food makers who still can’t figure out what they are supposed to say on labels.

The fiber guidance is particularly interesting.  FDA wants “dietary fiber” to have a proven health benefit, thereby excluding substances like chicory root, oat hulls, or other added plant components.

CSPI points out that the guidance is plenty clear enough, many food manufacturers are already using the new label, and the long delay is unnecessary.

I agree.  FDA: stop dilly-dallying on the food label.  The absurd delay makes it look like you are caving in to industry objectiosn.

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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.

Yes!

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.