Wow, the feds sure are busy. They’re regulating salt, telling food manufacturers what they can and cannot advertize, strong-arming grocery stores into selling more “nutritious” items, taking over school cafeterias, insisting restaurants print the oh-so-appetizing calorie information on their menus, and harassing fast food restaurants into changing their much beloved happy meals.
Boy, they must be tired. Time for a rest?
Heck no! On to bigger and better things…like making food manufacturers change the very packaging in which their products are wrapped. Hmmm, I thought food packaging kinda-sorta seems like a business decision. You know, a decision made by a corporation (am I allowed to say that word anymore?) based on consumer research, preferences, and demand.
Washington regulators (and the food nannies, natch) are frothing at the mouth over a new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) which found that food manufacturers are now giving consumers…wait for it…too much information.
Yup, that’s right. Reacting to federal calls for food labeling, the food industry did just that, launching a “facts up front” food labeling system to provide consumers with calorie and nutrient information on the front of the package along with letting health organizations like the American Heart Association to put their moniker on various foods (for instance, you might look for the Weight Watchers “approved” label if you’re watching your weight). But according to the IOM, this was leading to more consumer confusion than healthy choices.
Boy, they must really think we’re dumb.
What the IOM really objects to is food manufacturers putting positive information on their packages (like, “good source of Vitamin A”) without listing the so-called unhealthy information. Hmmm…yes, it’s a real shock that these food manufacturers choose not to put negative information about their products up front, and center. Of course, the entire list of calories, fat, and other nutrients (good and bad) for every food item is available on the nutrition box on the back of the package.
Before we get into the specifics of the IOM’s complaint about the “facts up front” initiative, let’s review the comfy relationship between the IOM and the food nannies. As I wrote last year, the federally funded IOM has a pretty comfortable relationship with nanny-state food activists. And it appears the IOM isn't really interested in researching the obesity issue at all. Rather, they seem to have made up their mind that the solution to obesity lies in government action. Forbes online ran a story about this unethical relationship:
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) seems to be regulators' and activists' favorite government entity for quietly advancing their paternalistic agendas. As a law firm memo relates, IOM's Standing Committee on Childhood Obesity Prevention held a workshop on October 21 examining "legal strategies" to reducing obesity. David Vladeck, an activist turned regulator from the Federal Trade Commission, warned businesses that the Commission could rely upon its controversial "unfairness" jurisdiction to sue food marketers without having to prove a causal link between marketing and obesity. Other speakers included CSPI's Michael Jacobson on a panel entitled "Using Litigation to Make Change," and Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell, who floated the possibility that his state might pursue new taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages.
I digress. Let’s take a look back at the evolution of nutrition labeling on food packaging.
Nutrition labels (that handy info box on the back of all food packages that lists calorie/fat/and other nutrients) has been required on all food packages since 1994. This information was touted as the solution to obesity. The logic being that given this information, fat Americans would all begin to behave themselves, make good decisions, and slim down. Everyone would live happily ever after.
But, it didn’t quite work out that way. Shockingly, even with the calorie information right there, printed on the package, we annoying Americans kept making bad food decisions. We kept eating potato chips, and ice cream, hamburgers, cake, pies, cookies (I’m getting hungry!) and soda.
Of course, to the food nannies, this wasn’t simply a case of people making their own good and bad food decisions, this was the corporation’s fault for not beating us over the head with the information we’re trying so hard to ignore.
The solution therefore was to start carping that the nutrition information on the back wasn’t enough. The argument going something like this: People simply don’t understand it; it’s too small; it’s too confusing…it’s (gasp) on the back of the box. How can we expect people to turn the box over? We’re simply asking the consumers to do too much!
Thus, the move to put the nutrition information up front. But the voluntary effort put forth by the food manufacturers simply didn’t satisfy the food nannies and the food regulators who want to design and standardize the labeling system. They are simply horrified that the food dudes went ahead and did it on their own (insert image of 2-year old having temper tantrum on floor while screaming “IT’S MY FOOD PACKAGING IDEA!!”)
The IOM’s report states that the Food and Drug Administration should “develop, test, and implement a single, standard [front-of-package] symbol system to appear on all food and beverage products, in place of other systems already in use. The symbol system should show calories in household servings on all products. Foods and beverages should be evaluated using a point system for saturated and trans fats and sodium, and added sugars. The more points a food or beverage has, the healthier it is. This system would encourage food and beverage producers to develop healthier fare and consumers to quickly and easily find healthier products when they shop.”
This new set of regulations is just another way in which the federal government will continue to weigh in on our personal decisions and make food prices soar. After all, who else is going to pay for the package redesign? It’s a cost that will be passed on to the consumer.
This nanny-ing about our food decisions will continue unless consumers finally act and tell letislators to put a stop to this intrusion. The federal government has no respect for the average American who is perfectly capable of making decisions for their families well-being. Americans don’t need the government’s help to properly feed their families. Most of all, they don’t need higher prices at the grocery store.