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Will the FDA finally enforce its food labeling rules?

Maybe we’ll finally see an end to those misleading labels on breakfast cereals (and other processed foods).

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it had begun a long-overdue analysis of nutritional claims on food labels to determine if any of them are misleading and thus violate federal food labeling rules. The FDA also said it intended to develop new science-based standards for front-of-the-package nutrition labeling.

Almost immediately, Kellogg, Kraft, Minnesota-headquartered General Mills and 11 other food companies announced they were voluntarily suspending their Smart Choices food-labeling program. That’s the program, introduced last August, that uses green labels on the front of packages to let us harried and oh-so-gullible consumers think that some processed foods are healthier than others.

No matter that the label could be found on Fruit Loops, Cocoa Puffs, Fudgesicles and other products that may contain up to 50 percent sugar and/or up to 80 percent of the recommended daily dietary fat allowance!

According to Forbes magazine, the food companies spent $1.47 million to develop this highly dubious marketing ploy.

Bad habits are hard to break, however. If you’ve hiked down your local grocery store’s cereal aisle lately, you may have noticed the breathless new banner plastered (in very large font) across the front of the sugary, chocolate-laden cereal Cocoa Krispies:

“Now Helps Support Your Child’s Immunity.”

I wasn’t the only person to think this label was a cynical attempt to cash in on parents’ worries this fall about the H1N1 (swine flu) virus. On Tuesday, San Francisco’s city attorney, Dennis Herrera, sent off a sharply worded letter to Kellogg’s CEO, David Mackay, asking for the scientific evidence behind the immunity claim.

“The Immunity Claims may falsely suggest to parents that cereals like Cocoa Krispies are more healthy for their children than other breakfast foods that are not high in sugar and not highly processed,” the letter noted. “The Immunity Claims may also mislead parents into believing that serving this sugary cereal will actually boost their child’s immunity, leaving parents less likely to take more productive steps to protect their children’s health.”

Of course, by the time the matter is resolved and the label is taken off cereal boxes (undoubtedly “voluntarily”), the flu season will be over — and Kellogg and the other food companies will be dreaming up questionable product claims for next year.

Let’s hope the FDA finally puts some teeth into its food labeling rules. 

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/29/2009 - 04:51 pm.

    How refreshing to see a governmental agency work on behalf of the people instead of corporations. It was a long eight years from 2001 through 2008.

    Suggestion: When the harm transfats can do became apparent, the government took action to bring their use as close to zero as possible and to make manufacturers list how much, if any, of that fat was in their product.

    There’s now a move to protect consumers’ health by taxing high-sugar/low-juice juice drinks and soft drinks by placing a special sales tax on them to discourage their purchase.

    Why not just limit by law the amount of sugar AND salt per serving that can be included in any food product?

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