One More Label To Ignore
This article is a 2:00-minute read using 9 sources
Last September, the FDA rolled out its brilliant new label to add to what’s become a sea of obfuscating, misleading, and faulty labels. Ever since shoppers started trying to make smarter food choices, the race to cover every package with as many labels as possible to make it impossible to shift through them all began. While a lot of our current label mishmash is because the FDA regulates consumers instead of food manufacturers; most of these labels come from the private sector – words like “natural” that can be construed as a label but it can easily just be a part of a brand name like “Nature’s Valley” and has nothing to do with the food. The FDA likes to put on their marketing hats as well. Last year the "BIOENGINEERED" label started appearing on foods. Bioengineered is the new word for GMO. Under the pretext of helping distinguish GMO food from regular food for transparency – many argued it was unnecessary as everything that’s Non-GMO is already labeled as such thanks to the non-profit “GMO Project.” Many see the Bioengineered label as marketing – trying to add a healthy-looking label to make GMO foods look better. With that in mind, the next label coming down the pipeline is the FDA’s “HEALTHY” label. In recent months the Healthy Label is facing pushback from all the major food manufacturers, nutritionists, and groups looking for transparent labels. “Big Food” companies like Kellogg, Mars, etc are pushing back because the requirements are so “stringent” 95% of their products don’t qualify.
On the other side, the biggest issue is that the “Healthy” label would steer a consumer away from products with real sugar into a substitute or synthetic sugar. Lately, one sugar substitute erythritol has been linked to heart failure, strokes, and other problems. The last time a similar battle took place was when the FDA told KIND Bars that they couldn’t market as healthy because they exceeded the fat limit. KIND fought back arguing it used real foods, such as nuts and seeds that are healthier compared to it’s low-fat, high-sugar equivalents. KIND won. Today KIND is owned by Mars who is still making the same argument on behalf of the bars. It turns out, KIND isn’t that healthy but it is better than other cereal bars. Under the current draft, many fruits and vegetables would exceed the sugar limits to receive a “healthy” label. Other FDA label transparency efforts like “bioengineered” have proved insignificant at best. The FDA knows that according to studies, a “healthy” label will probably only change .4% or less of consumer behavior. Why would they bother stirring up push-back and administrative work for a “healthy” label?
Several South American countries and Israel have adopted stop-sign shaped “UNHEALTHY” labels on unhealthy foods. If you’ve ever seen Europe’s cigarette packaging, it’s hard not to notice the vivid images of lung cancer on the package as a deterrent. A shopper is quoted by NPR as saying, “the labels are on everything. It’s like you can’t eat anything anymore.” The “healthy” label is intended to save the food industry from the same marketing troubles as cigarettes. Unfortunately, trying to find “healthy” manufactured foods to stick it on is about as challenging as finding a doctor-approved cigarette. Oh... wait.