The GMA announced launched a new website last week for its Facts Up Front campaign to “educate and empower consumers” — which is the asserted goal of the labeling scheme itself. GMA also claimed that the Facts Up Front label is now used on 90% of foods in some categories, with usage highest among cereals, beverages and dry goods.
“Facts Up Front” is led by GMA and the Food Marketing Institute and was launched in January 2011 as a type of “self regulation” by the industry. The Facts Up Front label is intended to highlight key nutrient information on the front of packages. Specifically, the label shows calories per serving and information on three nutrients to limit in your diet: saturated fat, sodium and sugar. Labels may also have information on one or two nutrients that Americans need to get more of as part of a healthy diet. These “encouraged” nutrients will only appear on a package if the product contains 10 percent or more of the daily value per serving of the nutrient and meets the FDA requirements for a “good source.”
According to GMA:
“Facts Up Front empowers consumers to make informed choices. It arms them with critical nutrition information about their favorite products,” said Pamela G. Bailey, President and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “But to make the most of Facts Up Front, Americans need to understand what that information means, and how it relates to their calorie and nutrient needs. Through this website, we are providing consumers with the knowledge and tools they need to build a healthful diet.”
Because no FOP labeling scheme is perfect, the government is unlikely to step in with its own regulations for FOP labeling so long as the Facts Up Front scheme gains wide industry acceptance.
New research published in the British Food Journal casts doubt on the benefits of nutritional labeling. The purpose of such labeling is, of course, to encourage healthy eating habits and decrease obesity. As reported in FoodNavigator-USA, however, the study notes that American consumers know significantly more about the fat content of foods they buy than consumers in France. Nevertheless, levels of obesity are three times higher in the USA than in France. The researchers call into question the focus on the levels of various nutritional components in food and note that consumers might “lose sight of the whole picture” with a better approach being to look at “what constitutes a healthy, complete and balanced meal.” See Food-Navigator’s full report here. Given the variety of other factors and cultural differences that can impact obesity, it will be interesting to see additional research on this topic and whether the Facts-up-Front campaign will have any impact on the obesity epidemic.
Please check out the final part of my Front-of-Package Labeling Overview for About.com, which focuses on FOP labeling systems. On this subject, I conclude:
As for the FDA, given its limited resources and preference for industry-led (ground-up) efforts, it is unlikely to take any formal action until it has exhaustively reviewed results of the Facts-Up-Front campaign (and, in all likelihood, Wal-Mart’s program) over the next 12-18 months.
The remainder of 2012 will provide tantalizing clues for the future of food labeling. Will Wal-Mart’s “Great for You” seal influence purchasing decisions or motivate food companies to change product formulations? Is the “Facts up Front” campaign sufficiently robust to help consumers make healthier choices? No matter what happens, though, the use of FOP claims will not likely diminish and will continue to be a subject of much discussion and criticism. Stay tuned.
It was my privilege to participate in a Q&A with Food Manufacturing on Front-of-Package (FOP) labeling issues and related legal risks. The full Q&A is available here.