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

By Marion Nestle

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/11/consumers-dont-want-to-be-told-what-to-eat-but-need-guidance/247962/