Helpful readers score some additional points about the nutrition facts label

Posted by
May 10, 2012

This graphic appeared in the 1993 "FDA Consumer" special report called "Focus on Food Labeling." Reprint courtesy of the FDA — May 10, 2012   On Tuesday, I wrote about the “five big things that are wrong with the nutrition facts label” (NFL) and got a lot of feedback from Food Identity Theft blog readers. Some alert individuals reminded me that I had neglected to mention one of the biggest problems with the NFL, and another about a contest held last year to redesign the label to try and make it more user-friendly.

First, I neglected to mention the zero trans-fats loophole. Numerous products are allowed to claim “0 trans-fats” on the nutrition facts label if their trans fat content is under 0.5 grams per serving. This can easily add up to significant amounts of artery-clogging trans fats, even if you think you’ve eaten none. The easy way around this loophole labeling is to look for the real culprit, partially or fully hydrogenated oil on the ingredient label, and leave the devious products that contain it on the supermarket shelf.

The contest, “Rethink the Food Label” was a project of the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism, and featured some “celebrity” judges, including writer Michael Pollan and Center for Science in the Public Interest Executive Director Michael Jacobson.

The winning concept, from Renee Walker, a designer from San Francisco, is an intriguing and  appealing layout that gives a prominent display to food ingredients. Walker used some fairly simple food examples in her design, such as an apple, peanut butter and frozen vegetables, leading Pollan to say, “I liked being able to see the visual breakdown of foods, although I wonder how her design would work with more complicated products, like Lucky Charms, say, or a PowerBar. Even so, it’s a step in the right direction.”

My favorite is another Walker design which has a list of questions in the box that are answered yes, no or maybe, including “Is it real food?”; “Did your grandmother eat it?”; and “Is it better than a doughnut?”

The FDA, which says it is working on a big-time revision to the NFL, will be hard pressed to come up with something more to the point than that.

The “corn sugar” scam is still open for comment

As any reader of this blog knows, in 2010 the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) submitted a petition to the FDA to rename the increasingly unpopular sweetener high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to the kinder name “corn sugar.”

This sneaky move on the part of the CRA to rebrand its sweetener, that consumers are shunning in droves, is still active and sitting at the FDA docket. This means you still have a chance to make your voice heard and protest this outrageous attempt at concealing HFCS in foods.

In April, four consumer groups wrote to the FDA asking them again to deny the petition, saying that consumer opposition against it is running at 100 to 1. The current count of posted comments at the FDA docket site is 2070, with scores more yet to be posted online.

One of the comments I noticed today sums it up well: “Renaming an ingredient to try and trick people into buying it because they do not recognize its name anymore is an abuse of the system. The reason ingredients lists are required on food labels is so those with allergies (or wishes to avoid certain ingredients based on personal belief, diets, or their doctor’s recommendations) can easily identify the foods they are purchasing and ingesting.”

Comments from Citizens for Health supporters count among the many posted, but still more action is needed. Click here to send your comments to the FDA. You can copy and paste some sample messages from this page, or compose one of your own. You can tell the FDA “Food Identity Theft sent me!”