Various labeling systems are currently being used by U.S. retailers and food makers to make nutritional claims. Barbara Schneeman, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Office of Nutrition, Labeling and Dietary Supplements, recently sent an open letter to the food industry stating the agency’s intent to develop a new regulation to define “the nutritional criteria that manufacturers will have to meet for front package ingredient claims regarding nutritional quality”. According to the FDA, the “non-standard labeling approach is likely confusing to consumers and does not help them to make healthy food choices”.
In related news, the “industry-funded” (code for “You can buy the Smart Choice seal”) labeling program was halted 10/23/09 after the FDA warned it was examining the program’s nutritional claims and would take action against false or misleading assertions. The American Heart Association was criticized when manufacturers paid a fee for the heart-check label, which was sometimes applied to foods less than rich in nutrients crucial for heart health.
The FDA hopes to use the approach tested in the United Kingdom, where the British government established criteria for food labeling that were then implemented voluntarily by grocery stores. However, in the United Kingdom there is a consistent public-health message that dietary choices can adversely affect health — as opposed to the United States, where the media bristle with ads pushing sponsors’ products.