FDA to examine food labels that influence consumer decisions

FDA to examine food labels that influence consumer decisions
RICHMOND—Consumers often make food purchases based on labels, which can affect their health.

Because food labeling plays such an important role in consumers’ food choices, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is working on a new Nutrition Innovation Strategy. This program will give consumers more choices, while improving labeling to reflect the health attributes of food.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the organization plays a critical role in protecting public health through improvements to the nutritional profile of foods in Americans’ diets.

He added that consumers are more interested than ever in learning about the food they eat and using that information to make healthful choices. At the same time, the market is rapidly responding to new consumer expectations and trends.

The first area of food labeling the FDA will study is the wide variety of plant-based foods that are being positioned in the marketplace as substitutes for standardized dairy products.

“FDA's review of product labeling is long overdue, especially for dairy products,” said Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “It's ironic that most plant protein beverages and foods claiming to be a better alternative to dairy actually use dairy labeling terms in their names.

“Federal law is clear on dairy terms; the FDA just hasn’t been enforcing it,” Banks explained. “And the FDA faces a new challenge in the labeling of cultured meats produced in vitro.”

Many plant-based foods use traditional dairy terms in the name of the product, such as milk, yogurt and cheese. However, these alternative products are not the food that has been standardized under the 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act with the name “milk,” Gottlieb said.

Some of the products’ nutritional content varies widely compared to traditional milk and can have the potential for public health consequences. For example, cases have been reported of young children drinking rice-based beverages and then contracting a disease called kwashiorkor, a form of severe protein malnutrition. There also has been a case of a toddler who was diagnosed with rickets, caused by vitamin D deficiency, after parents used a soy-based alternative to cow’s milk.

Public health concerns are one reason the FDA is prioritizing efforts to closely look at the identity standards for dairy products. It’s part of an overall process for modernizing identity standards to help give consumers proper dietary information.

Media: Contact Banks at 804-290-1114.



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