Consumers Don't Want to Be Told What to Eat, but Need Guidance

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A round-up of articles about front-of-package labels, and the results of a new survey of readers' attitudes on the controversial subject

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Food Navigator's "special edition" on front-of-package labeling includes the results of a new survey of readers' attitudes and a round-up of previous articles.

Front-of-pack poll results: No clear winner (except cynicism...): The results of this poll are amusing, not least because they depend -- as always -- on how the questions were asked. Respondents to this one were offered five choices:

  • Facts up Front. Consumers don't want to be told what to eat (29 percent picked this one).
  • The IOM scheme. Busy shoppers need more guidance (19 percent).
  • Other points-based schemes that include positive nutrients, i.e. Guiding Stars (11 percent).
  • Traffic-light-type color-coding schemes (about five percent).
  • We're kidding ourselves if we think front-of-pack labels will change behavior (36 percent).

This last is tempting. Front-of-package labels, as I keep insisting, are about encouraging sales of one processed food product over another. They have little to do with encouraging healthier food choices.

Front-of-pack labeling in pictures: Healthier choices at a glance or more nutritional wallpaper?: Red lights, green dots, ticks, stars, healthy seals, nutrients to encourage, nutrients of concern, smart choices.... The aim of front-of-pack labels is simple -- to help us make healthier choices (or at least more informed ones) -- fast. But how best to achieve this has prompted a storm of controversy on both sides of the Atlantic....

IOM front-of-pack labels are step in right direction but need more work, says Guiding Stars advisor: The Institute of Medicine's (IOM's) proposed front-of-pack (FOP) labeling scheme is a positive step forward, but "needs much more work," according to supporters of one leading FOP scheme already up and running in the marketplace....

IOM front-of-pack labeling scheme: It's bold, it's simple and I love it. But is it fair?: The Institute of Medicine (IOM) certainly didn't pull any punches in its front-of-pack labels report yesterday....

IOM calls for 'fundamental shift' in approach to front-of-pack food labeling: Front-of-pack (FOP) labeling schemes should "move away from systems that mostly provide nutrition information without clear guidance about healthfulness and toward one that encourages healthier food choices," according to a high-profile report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM)....

Not a word from the FDA about the IOM's front-of-package report. What will FDA do? What can FDA do? It's a voluntary scheme and companies can voluntarily refuse to use it. Hence: those useless (except to food companies) "Facts Up Front."

Image: REUTERS.

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This post also appears on Food Politics, an Atlantic partner site.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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