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Are U.S. Foodmakers Trying to Pre-Empt FDA on Front Labels?

Foodfacts.com has learned that the two leading trade associations of mainstream American food and beverage manufacturers opened up a new front – literally – in the raging war over how they market their products to an obese nation this week. They have proposed an overhaul of how they place nutrition facts on the front of their packages.

It’s stirring some controversy, because the Food and Drug Administration is close to issuing new standards telling the manufacturers exactly how the government wants them to do that. Critics are unhappy that the groups apparently tried to pre-empt the federal advisory.

The Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association issued a joint statement saying they will unveil early next year their proposal for making nutrition information simple, clear and understandable on the front of packages using a “fact-based format.”

The groups’ proposed packaging would include information on “nutrient-dense” eating as well as on “shortfall nutrients” that are under-consumed in the diets of most Americans. The groups pledged to spend $50 million to explain the initiative to consumers.

“This is a landmark step forward in the industry’s commitment to help address the obesity challenge,” said David Mackay, president and chief executive officer of FMI member Kellogg Company.

“It represents the most significant change to food labels in the United States in nearly twenty years. And our commitment to an ambitious consumer education campaign will amplify the impact the labeling change will have in households across the country.”

But here’s the rub: Critics assert that the food-marketing groups only made this move in order to steal a march on the FDA, which is in the throes of coming up with its own recommendations on front-of-package labeling. Agency officials have said that the program would be voluntary, but manufacturers agreeing to comply would have to do some specific things.

It’s assumed that the FDA will take an approach similar to that of another U.S. government body, the Institute of Medicine, which recently recommended that the front of packages should focus on disclosing only calories, serving size, saturated fats, trans fats and sodium content because those measures address Americans’ most pressing food-related health problems and highlighting more nutrition facts that already are on the back of the label might overly clutter the front.

Food manufacturers naturally take exception to that approach because they want to be able to tout – even in simple form – the presence of body-boosting nutrients such as omega-3s, fiber, and added vitamins. FMI mentioned the 20,000 healthier product choices its members have developed and launched over the last several years. It’s also been conducting consumer research, such as the on-the-street interviews in the video (released in May) above.

Marion Nestle is unmoved. The food-studies and nutrition professor at New York University and blogger – known for her anti-industry views – fumed, “This move is all the evidence the FDA needs for mandatory (front-of-package) labels. GMA and FMI have just demonstrated that the food industry will not willingly label its processed foods .

Source: Brand Channel

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