Front of the pack labeling regulations are in force in almost all countries in the world and often questions have been raised regarding the effect of such declarations on the consumer. It is true that the consumer has no means to check on the veracity of the declaration and there have been instances when the values of the nutrients or the list ingredients do not match with the real values of the contents! Besides in a country like India often the label is printed in English which most of the population cannot read or understand. Same must be true in many countries where more than one language is spoken. Still putting in the public domain the characteristic chemical and nutritional features by brand conscious companies can have a salutary effect in making false claims which are likely to be exposed one day or the other. Here is a report about a major beverage company of international repute modifying its ingredient list surreptitiously to omit some of them, obviously because of public sensitivity on them!
"Take another look at that food label. An ingredient or two may have vanished. As Americans pay closer attention to what they eat, food and beverage companies are learning unfamiliar ingredients can invite criticism from online petitions and bloggers. The risk of damaging publicity has proven serious enough that some manufacturers have reformulated top-selling products to remove mysterious, unpronounceable components that could draw suspicion. Earlier this year, for example, PepsiCo Inc. said it would stop using brominated vegetable oil in Gatorade and find another way to evenly distribute color in the sports drink. Last year, Starbucks said it would stop using a red dye made of crushed bugs based on comments it received "through a variety of means," including an online petition, and switch to a tomato-based extract. Kraft Foods plans to replace artificial dyes with colors derived from natural spices in select varieties of its macaroni and cheese, a nod to the feedback it's hearing from parents. Ali Dibadj, a Bernstein analyst who covers the packaged food and beverage industry, says the changes reflect a shift from "democratization to activism" by consumers. "It used to be that people would just decide not to buy the product. Now they're actually agitating for change," Dibadj said. "There's a bullhorn - which is the Internet - so you can get a lot of people involved very quickly." Companies stand by the safety of their old recipes. Although they don't typically provide details on production decisions, their reasons for using certain ingredients can include cost and manufacturing efficiencies".
The fear of labeling is manifested in the on-going struggle between anti GM food activists and GM foods promoting industry in making declaration of presence of GM ingredients in packed foods. Though most people in the US do not know that almost 80% of processed foods they consume contain one or more GM ingredients as there is no indication to this effect on the label, they do not seem to be unduly worried about this on-going fight regarding mandatory labeling of GM foods. Added to this the safety authorities in the US has taken a stand that GM foods are not unsafe because of the undue influence of the GM food lobbyists. If the industry is not scared of the labeling regulations why should they spend billions of dollars in defeating ballot initiatives in states like California? It can be safely said that mandatory labeling is the best thing that has happened to help the millions of hapless consumers in understanding what food they are buying and what they should avoid for being healthy.