There are several problems with current labeling requirements, according to Ellen Haas, executive director of Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, a consumer advocacy group.
First, she says, "our current label emphasizes micronutrients,"--the labels list many vitamins and minerals rather than concentrating on fat, sugar, salt and fiber, which Haas says have more consumer interest these days..
In addition, the current labeling lists nutrient content as percentage of the Recommended Dietary Allowances (dietary requirements to keep a normal adult healthy). Not everybody understands the RDA, says Haas, and in any case would need to shop with a calculator.
The language on the labels is mixed, according to a Food and Drug Administration study, and therefore confusing. Labels mix household terms (cups, ounces) with grams and percentages. Further, there is no clear emphasis on information; calorie content looks as important as thiamin content.
"Another major problem," says Haas, "is that nutrition labels are not found on a large number of products. What we need is mandatory nutrition labeling. To be useful to the consumer it needs to be a comparison tool, and to be a comparison tool it must be on everything."
The FDA study of labels and consumer attitudes suggests alternatives to present nutrient labeling. The agency invites public comment on these in addition to further suggestions from anyone affected by labeling.
The comment period ends Jan. 31. Comments and requests for copies of those nutrient label alternatives under consideration may be addressed to Raymond C. Stokes, Division of Consumer Studies, Bureau of Foods, FDA, 200 C St. SW, Washington, D.C. 20204.