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Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, has a blog post on the Atlantic website in which she writes about the proposal from the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) last week to create a front-of-package labeling initiative.

She writes, in part:

“Forget the consumer-friendly rhetoric. There is only one explanation for this move: heading off the FDA's front-of-package (FOP) labeling initiatives.

Only two weeks ago, the Institute of Medicine released its first FDA-sponsored FOP labeling report. The IOM committee recommended that FOP symbols only mention calories, sodium, trans fat, and saturated fat. This led William Neuman of The New York Times to summarize its approach as: ‘Tell us how your products are bad for us.’

“GMA and FMI would much rather label their products with all the things that are good about them, like added vitamins, omega-3s, and fiber. If they must do negatives, they prefer ‘no trans fat’ or ‘no cholesterol.’

“What they especially do not want the FDA to impose is ‘traffic-light’ symbols. These U.K. symbols, you may recall from previous posts, discourage consumers from buying anything labeled in red, and were so strongly opposed by the food industry that they caused the undoing of the British Food Standards Agency.

GMA and FMI, no doubt, are hoping the same thing will happen to our FDA ... This move is all the evidence the FDA needs for mandatory FOP labels. GMA and FMI have just demonstrated that the food industry will not willingly label its processed foods in ways that help the public make healthier food choices.”

And, Nestle concludes:

“FDA: You should be outraged by this move. Say so!”
KC's View:
I said last week that I was sure that part of the reason the FMI/GMA proposal would have appeal is that it “emerges from the private sector, avoiding dreaded ‘government interference’.” (Not bad...and I’m not even a professor.)

I do not believe that trying to pre-empt government regulation is necessarily a bad thing. As long as the labels are accurate, I have no problem with industry efforts to do the right thing before the bureaucrats get involved. If, on the other hand, the industry tries to use the labels to “spin” a message, well, then they’ll get the regulation and bureaucrats that they deserve.

I also think that the labels should tell me what I need to know - not necessarily good news or bad news.