Saturday, October 4, 2014


The purpose of printing nutrition information about a particular food product on the pack is to help consumers understand the health value of the food inside. It must be admitted that the food labeling vis-a-vis nutrients present in a food has helped millions of consumers to make right choice based on their limited understanding of the science of nutrition and health. According to one survey almost 50% of the buyers in the US regularly read the nutrient profile on the pack before making their choice which is remarkable considering that the shopping time and number of trips to the market are progressively decreasing because of their economy driven life style. FDA of the US is a role model for many countries in fashioning their regulatory regimes and therefore the attempt by this premier agency to overhaul the labeling system after 20 years will have a chain effect across the world. Details about the intention and plans of FDA can be had from the excerpts referred below.

"Nutrition FDA may revise 20-year-old standards for food and drink nutrition labels The Food and Drug Administration says knowledge about nutrition has evolved over the last 20 years, and the labels need to reflect that. As the agency considers revisions, nutritionists and other health experts have their own wish list of desired changes. The number of calories should be more prominent, they say, and the amount of added sugar and percentage of whole wheat in the food should be included. They also want more clarity on how serving sizes are defined. "There's a feeling that nutrition labels haven't been as effective as they should be," says Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "When you look at the label, there are roughly two dozen numbers of substances that people aren't intuitively familiar with." For example, he says, most of the nutrients are listed in grams, the metric system's basic unit of mass. Jacobson says people don't really understand what a gram is. Michael Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods, says 20 years ago "there was a big focus on fat, and fat undifferentiated." Since then, health providers have focused more on calories and warned people away from saturated and trans fats more than all fats. Trans fats were separated out on the label in 2006. The nutrition facts label "is now 20 years old, the food environment has changed and our dietary guidance has changed," says Taylor, who was at the agency in the early 1990s when the FDA first introduced the label at the behest of Congress. "It's important to keep this updated so what is iconic doesn't become a relic."

The basic premise for revisiting the labeling regulations is that the nutrition science and health science have brought out a plethora of new information which in many cases run counter to the present precepts and practices. One of the most pressing needs is to meet the anxiety of consumers regarding the sugar content in a product though total sugar declaration is part of the present label rules. What is distinctly to be brought out is the extent of sugar added by the manufacturer to make the product and clarify what type of sugar has been added. The implication of HFCS in obesity related diseases is well known to the laymen and such distinction can allay the fears while buying a sugar sweetened product. Similarly a distinction is necessary between natural dietary fiber and added fiber as there is a significant difference between these two categories when it comes to its effectiveness. In many wheat based products invariably the refined flour with practically no nutrients left after milling, is used  where as the consumer would like to know from the label how much whole wheat flour is added in such products, if at all. It is difficult to meet the entire aspirations of the consumer and health activists as limited space is available for printing all the details. But an earnest attempt must be made to make the label as informative and transparent as possible. 


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