by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Labels

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.

Nov 19 2007

UK alters traffic light labeling system to account for added sugars

According to FoodProductionDaily, my newsletter source for information about food and nutrition in Europe, the U.K. Food Standards agency is changing its red-yellow-green labeling system to distinguish added sugars from those naturally present in foods. This is a good idea and I wish the FDA would do the same thing, but one of the reasons given doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. According to this report, the Food Standards Agency agreed to do this because “sugars derived from fruit, such as fructose, are generally lower in calories, while added sugars are perceived as unhealthier.” Added sugars may be perceived as unhealthier, but sugars are sugars and they all–sucrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, lactose, and all the rest–have the same number of calories, roughly 4 per gram. I think there is a better reason: naturally occurring sugars come with everything else that’s in fruits and vegetables, and added sugars don’t.

Nov 7 2007

Trans Fat Dilemmas

I have long talked about trans fat as a calorie distracter. People think “trans fat-free” means “calorie-free” when it most definitely does not. Whatever replaces trans fats will have just as many calories–130 per tablespoon, meaning that each tablespoon is 5% of a day’s average calorie intake. That’s why I either laugh or cry when I see “zero grams trans fat”
on the labels of junk foods. Trans fats raise the risk of heart disease a bit more than do the saturated fats that occur naturally in foods. But trans fats are unnatural and unnecessary and it’s good to get rid of them. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal explains how food companies are struggling to find replacements that do not increase the amount of saturated fat in processed foods. This, as it turns out, is not so easy to do. I discuss all this in the fats-and-oils chapter of What to Eat, so I’m happy to see the WSJ take it on.