Food Labeling Chaos
Do an online search for references to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. What can you find out about this organization? Where do they get their funding? Who do they answer to? What is their mission? Who is on their board of directors? Based upon what you find, would you trust the nutrition information published by this organization?
The Center for Science in the Public Interest is a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. They were founded in 1971 and since the late 1970s they have been focused on issues of nutrition and the safety of food products. The group is funded both by private donors and through the sale of their newsletter, Nutrition Action Health Letter (Bennett & DiLorenzo 1998). According to their website, the mission of the organization is “to conduct innovative research and advocacy programs in health and nutrition, and to provide consumers with current, useful information about their health and well-being” (Center 2013). The board of directors is comprised of: Dr. Lynn Chalfin, Denise Elliott, Tom Gegax, Mark Ingram, Michael Jacobson, David Kessler, Sushma Palmer, Rudy Ruiz, Robin Sheekey, Penn Staples, James Sullivan, Deborah Szekly, and Sheila Weidenfeld. While I believe the organization is well-intentioned, I have found enough evidence that the group uses biased information in many of its reports in order to further their agenda (Warner 2005). While I would not dismiss their findings, I would seek out confirmation.
2. In Part II, Improving the Nutrition Facts Label, please summarize the recommendations listed for improving the nutrition facts label, including the author’s rationale. For each of the recommendations, what is the current regulatory and legislative status?
a. Calories per serving should be shown more prominently on the labels because it is the most important piece of information. Presently, the calorie content must be listed but it can be the same type and size as the rest of the information.
b. Information that is not absolutely, namely the calories from fat line and the footnote, necessary should be eliminated because they are inefficient and unused. Current law dictates that both these things are present on the label.
c. Serving sizes should be updated to reflect the consumer today because the ones currently on labels are 20 to 40 years behind.
d. There should be regulations which reflect larger single serving products as current laws do not reflect this and so consumers are taking in more calories than they are aware of.
e. A line should be created which shows a recommended daily value for sugar because there is not one now. Also, low sugar should be clearly defined as now this is defined by the individual companies and there is no norm.
f. The current rules regarding fiber should be modified because now companies are not using real fibers, but rather powdered chemicals and claiming they include fiber.
3. Look at the list of chapters that give details of each of the food labeling revisions recommended by the authors. Choose two of the recommendations that you feel are especially important, and read those chapters. Summarize the argument. State whether you agree or disagree with the evidence presented, and give at least one example from your own experience with food labels for each of the recommendations on which you chose to elaborate.
a. Stopping Misleading Ingredient Claims:
Food companies are erroneously claiming healthy ingredients such as fruits or whole grains without actually containing them. With regard to whole wheat, this is actually only in the product as flour. When a product claims to have real fruits or vegetables, it is usually only a small percentage of concentrated juice. I agree that companies should only be able to claim an ingredient if it exists in the product in its natural state. I remember being young and eating fruit snacks which were supposed to be healthy as the product claimed to be made from real fruit when they were in fact little better than fruit-flavored candies.
b. Controlling Misleading “Natural” Claims
In a similar vein to the above, many products are allowed to claim that they are wholly natural when that is not the case. Since the term natural is vague, there are currently no regulations limiting them. However, the reason company’s include this word on labels is because there is an implicit understanding that natural is equal to healthier foods. Foods can be labeled as natural even if they have additional products, such as fruit juice with added citric acid. I do not think a product should be allowed to claim it is natural when there are things added. If it is not in a natural state, it is not natural. I, like many people, have purchased granola bars or cereal thinking I was buying something good for me only to discover the natural content was quite limited.
4. Silverglade and Heller claim that revisions in food labeling showing accurate nutrition and health information could make an impact on the current epidemic of type II diabetes, obesity, and CVD. Further, “while cost-benefit ratios are hard to establish, the use of nutrition labeling is associated with healthier diets.” In your experience of shopping for sand selecting packaged foods, would you say this claim is realistic? Why?
I believe that when people think about eating right and their health, they look at the food labels. When they are either uncaring or if their primary concern is cost, then the health benefits and nutrition will not be as important and will not deter a person from buying something unhealthy.
Bennett, J. And DiLorenzo, T. (1998). Food and drink police: center for science in the public interest wants government to control our eating habits.
Center for Science in Public Interest. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.cspinet.org/about/mission.html
Silverglade, B. And Heller, I.R. (2010). Food Labeling Chaos: the Case for Reform. Center for Science in the Public Interest: Washington, D.C.
Warner, M. (2005, June 12). Striking back at the food police. New York Times.
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