The Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its first front-of-package (FOP) labeling report (view PDF here) yesterday morning. Phase I is a tough, detailed examination of about 20 of the existing FOP schemes along with some recommendations about what such schemes ought to do.
FOP labels are those little spots, check marks, and tokens that are all over food packages these days and that are supposed to indicate that the product is especially healthy for you. They may seem utterly trivial, but they are of desperate importance to food companies. FOP labels sell food products. Food marketers love them and need them. The FDA worries that having so many of them confuses the public, and that the schemes are based on criteria that serve industry purposes more than to promote public health.
As the IOM press release explains:
A multitude of nutrition rating, or guidance, systems have been developed by food manufacturers, government agencies, nutrition groups, and others in recent years with the intent of helping consumers quickly compare products' nutritional attributes and make healthier choices. Ratings are typically communicated to shoppers through symbols placed prominently on food packaging, usually on the front, or on retail shelf tags. Unlike the Nutrition Facts panel, these rating systems and symbols are unregulated, and different systems focus on different nutrients. The variation may confuse consumers, and questions have been raised about the systems' underlying nutritional criteria.
The committee did a terrific analysis of current FOP schemes. My favorite parts are its