Do you ever feel that figuring out what to eat is harder than paying your own taxes? If so, you may be one of the health conscious Americans who actually noticed that the Food and Drug Administration revised the Nutrition Facts Panel to include calorie counts in bold and update the daily values of recommended nutrients. Not to mention, Congress wants to tinker with the food label even more, but a lot of what it wants to do is not up to date with current science.
Contrary to what the FDA is doing, the recently proposed 2021 Food Labeling Modernization Act is the first food labeling law update since 1990 and is deemed necessary as Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. (DN.J.) determined that the Using current food labels “is not always easy with today’s opaque food labels and marketing messages.”
But that’s exactly what the food label was supposed to fix in the early 1990s, when then Minister of Health Louis Sullivan announced that the 1973 label revision put the “Tower of Babel in food labels” and that “consumers are now comparing nutritional values and making healthy choices can meet”.
But with 36% of Americans now obese and that number is set to climb to 50% by 2030, it seems like the food labels just don’t work. And this rise in obesity will bring increased incidences of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Congress has many ideas on how to help, such as the FDA’s instruction to define the term “natural”. However, this is a largely useless exercise, as Tom Standage – the author of “An Edible History of Humanity” – explains that virtually all of the plants and animals we consume are “man-made technologies.”
The new Congressional bill also requires the FDA to develop symbols to signal the health of individual foods, similar to the voluntary labeling efforts of the nonprofit Keystone Group in 2008. They brought together food companies, activists, and the government to uncover the never-before-seen “Smart Choice.” “Symbols. It was an excellent idea then, but now, over a decade later, science has moved on.
The bill includes additional requirements, including defining what is healthy and adding warnings for objectionable nutrients such as salt, saturated fat, and trans fats that exceed a certain amount.
While some of the provisions can be useful, many of them are problematic. Changing labels will be extremely costly, and manufacturers will add to that cost by eliminating, adding, or redesigning products. Many of these warnings or hasty revisions can also be misguided, as we have seen in the past when the government’s focus on total fat and dietary cholesterol was later discredited.
The proposed law would also require manufacturers to register every labeling and labeling change with the FDA, which would then publish it on the Internet. If manufacturers fail to ship the labels, they will be fined $ 10,000 per day. The law would also make these proposed rules final if not implemented within congressional deadlines, apparently to ensure that future unfriendly governments do not interfere.
Given the vast majority of consumers couldn’t use labels to eat healthy meals, this latest bill may make food activists happy, but its focus is in the wrong direction.
The problem is the rapidly evolving field of precision nutrition. Like Dr. Kevin Hall, Senior Investigator for the National Institutes of Health, notes, “People can react differently to foods and nutrients, and therefore a diet that is best for one person can be very different from another.” That is, each of us has its own genetic profile, microbiome, environment and health status.
For example, a Stanford University study found that some people on a low-fat diet lost weight, but others gained weight. Generalized dietary recommendations – whether it’s label icons, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate app, or the same standardized cookie cutters recommended for everyone – generally don’t help. In fact, they can even be harmful to some people. For example, a low-salt diet can be just as dangerous as a high-salt diet.
Nutrition innovators are making great strides in precision nutrition, along with the novel devices that implement it. That is the guiding star that we have to use. Perhaps we should leave the complex, misguided food labels alone.
Richard Williams is a Senior Associated Scholar at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, former director of social sciences at the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and author of the forthcoming book “Fixing Food: An FDA Insider Unravels the Myths and Die Solutions.”