by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Labels

Sep 7 2009

FDA to research food labels

The FDA just announced in the Federal Register that it plans to take a good hard look at public understanding of what’s currently on food labels.  It says it will do an Internet survey of 43,000 people to:

  • Identify attitudes and beliefs to do with health, diet and label usage
  • Determine relationships between these attitudes and beliefs, demographics, and actual label use
  • Look at the relevance of these attitudes
  • Identify barriers to label use

I hope they ask me!

What is this about?  Let me take a wild guess: Health claims?  Smart Choices labels?  Anything that makes people think highly processed foods are good for them?  Or distracts from the Nutrition Facts panel?

The FDA is required to allow 60 days for comment.   Tell the FDA you think the more research it does on food labels, the better!

Aug 14 2009

Labeling GM foods: if the U.K. can do it, we can too!

You will recall that the FDA’s 1994 stance on labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods was that labeling foods as GM or non-GM would be misleading  because the foods are no different.  Despite overwhelming evidence that the public wants to know whether foods are GM or not, GM foods do not have to be labeled.  Worse, those that are labeled non-GM have to include a disclaimer that this makes no difference (I explain how all this happened in Safe Food).

At present, there is no way to know whether GM foods that have been approved by FDA (such as potatoes, tomatoes, squash, papayas) are actually in the produce section of supermarkets.  When I was writing What to Eat, I paid to have some papayas tested.  Most were not GM.  But you have no way of knowing that.

The GM industry (translation: Monsanto) has opposed labeling from the very beginning, no doubt because of fears that people will reject GM foods.  The makers of processed foods object to labeling because practically everything they make contains GM ingredients: about 90% of the soybeans and 50% of the corn grown in America is GM.  Ingredients made from these foods – corn and soy oils, proteins, and sweeteners – are widely used in processed foods.

The Europeans are faced with the same problem but insist on labeling GM.  Guess what?  No problem.  Hershey’s Reese’s NutRageous candy bars in the U.K. disclose the GM ingredients in exactly the way our products disclose allergens: “Contains: Peanuts, Genetically Modified Sugar, Soya and Corn.”

Here’s the label (borrowed from Mike Grenville at


Hershey is an American company.  If labeling in the U.K. is this simple, we ought to be able to do this here, no?  Here’s a chance for the FDA to fix an old mistake and give consumers a real choice.

Oct 14 2008

GAO: FDA must do better on produce safety and food labeling

For decades, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has been pressing the FDA to do a better job of regulating the food supply.  These days, the GAO is dealing with produce safety.  It worries that the FDA has no formal program in place to protect the safety of fresh produce when it is so obvious that such a program is needed.  The GAO also scolds the FDA for not keeping up with monitoring of food labels.  The FDA has too much to do and not enough resources.  But, says GAO, the FDA would do better if it took this watchdog agency’s advice–but it doesn’t.  Why not?  The GAO doesn’t say so, but it’s politics, of course.  The food industry is ever vigilant against regulation.   This stance goes against the food industry’s best interest, in my view.  Yours?

Jul 1 2008

Calories in alcoholic beverages revealed!

Consumer Federation of America (CFA) has a new Alcohol Facts chart out that compares the calorie content of alcoholic beer, wine, and hard liquor. CFA produced it to fill the regulatory gap in labeling of alcoholic beverages–they are regulated by an arm of the Treasury Department (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) and viewed as revenue generators, not something that might affect health. It’s amusing to see where the calories are…

May 27 2008

Uh oh. New Zealand tests label claims

New Zealand food packages are covered with nutrition and health claims just like ours, but the food agency only began allowing them a few years ago. The agency thought it might be interesting to find out whether the packages really contained the levels of vitamins and minerals claimed on the labels. Oops. Turns out that 58% did not. They either had too little (15%) or too much (42%). The excuses: built-in safety margins, hard-to-mix ingredients, unstable vitamins, uncertain analytic methods. The FDA hasn’t done one of these investigations in a long time, as far as I know. I wonder what it would find if it did?

Mar 15 2008

Qualified health claims–eeks!

Applause for our representatives who have written the FDA to something better about qualified health claims (to read the actual claim, scroll down to the end of the text, just above the signature). These, in case you have forgotten, are claims that companies can put on food product labels as long as the claim is accompanied by a disclaimer. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but here’s the one for corn oil: “Very limited and preliminary scientific evidence suggests that eating about 1 tablespoon (16 grams) of corn oil daily may reduce the risk of heart disease due to the unsaturated fat content in corn oil. FDA concludes that there is little scientific evidence supporting this claim (my emphasis). To achieve this possible benefit, corn oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.” Maybe the letter will induce the FDA to review this policy?

Mar 12 2008

San Francisco votes nutrition labeling

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is requiring chain restaurants to post nutrition information on menu boards–not just calories, as in New York, but also fat, carbohydrates, and sodium. Carbohydrates but not sugars? All that? It will be interesting to see how this works in six months when the rule goes into effect.

Jan 16 2008

FDA seeks public comment on food labels and health claims

The FDA must be hearing lots of complaints about food labels and health claims because it is asking for comments on the best way to calculate the percent daily value (DV), and on what nutrients get displayed.  It is considering removing “Calories from Fat,” for example, and requiring the amount of  monounsaturated fat to be listed. Want to comment on these ideas or suggest others?  Go to this FDA site.  As for health claims, the FDA plans to reevaluate the ones for soy and heart disease, fat and cancer, antioxidant vitamins and cancers, and selenium and cancers based on recent research.  To comment, go to the Federal Register.