By Dawna Matthews:
I feel lucky to live in a country with choices. I’ve lived in several parts of the world and know this is not always the case. Many countries give you just one or — if you’re lucky — two choices of a product to purchase. While I understand and appreciate the opportunities I have of choosing from a myriad of products, it can also be overwhelming. Organic, gluten-free, all natural, and more: labels can give me a case of anxiety! If the label says “free-range,” were these animals running around the farm? Is a “natural” food better than a non-natural food? How do I make the “right” choice for my daughter and me? Do I trust the label?
The Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2013 recently has been introduced to help with some label clarification. It aims to require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to impose criteria for food labels. It is an effort to create a more uniform front-of-package label as well as to cut down on all the misleading “healthy” labels on what is basically junk food. It proposes stricter guidelines for “natural,” “healthy,” and “whole grain” claims with an added disclosure of any additional colors, sweeteners, etc., to the package.
The bill would compel manufacturers to provide specified information in a consistent location on a newly designed, standardized fact panel. This would make finding the information consumers need about the product easier. Additionally, the Food Labeling Bill aims to simplify the ingredients list so it is easier to understand and, therefore, help those people on certain diets or with allergies.
Here are some of the labeling details:
“Natural” – Under the proposed legislation, food products would be deemed misbranded if they contain artificial colors, synthesized ingredients which can be found in naturally occurring ingredients, or chemically altered ingredients (a well-know offender is high fructose corn syrup).
“Whole Grain” – The new food bill would regard food products to be misbranded if they claim to be whole grain, made with whole grain, or use similar wording without disclosing percentages of the whole grains contained in the product. (For example: 50% of the grains are whole grains). How many of you have stood in the bread aisle looking at all those loaves, wondering which is the “grainiest”? I know I have!
“Healthy” – The food bill would require the FDA to revise regulations on “healthy” claims. This would include limits on sugar levels. “Healthy” claims would have to meet certain elements of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2010.asp), which emphasize balancing physical activities and calorie intake, eating more plant based foods, and reducing consumption of foods high in sodium, trans fats, refined grains and sugars.
The introduction of this bill is exciting for me. Nutrition information, ingredients listing, and revised “health” claims on labels can dramatically affect our battle against obesity, preventable diet-related diseases, and rising health costs. I am an advocate for clearer labels and holding the FDA accountable for what we as Americans deserve. We deserve to know what is in our foods. We deserve to make informed choices. We deserve the best for ourselves and our children. This could be the beginning of something beautiful, where we go back to simple, whole foods or at least to the day when I can pick up a box and know what is inside.
More information on The Food Labeling Modernization Act: http://pallone.house.gov/sites/pallone.house.gov/files/documents/OnePager.pdf