David Kessler, MD, says there's no reason for ingredient labels to be confined to the sides and backs of products.
Even though FDA proposed to update the nutrition facts panel back in February, there’s still no shortage of opinions on it. Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, former FDA commissioner David Kessler, MD, says much more should be done-including front-of-package labeling.
While applauding the high points of FDA’s plan-including mandatory labeling of added sugars and serving sizes that accurately reflect normal consumption habits-Kessler says the proposals currently do nothing to encourage higher consumption of real food.
“What the proposals don’t do is consider a product’s overall nutritional value,” writes Kessler. “There is nothing in the new framework that actively encourages consumers to purchase food rich in the fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that are rightfully considered ‘real food.’ Instead, the focus is on specific nutrients-an emphasis that gives food companies an incentive to fortify their products so they can make claims such as ‘added fiber’ or to produce sugar-laden foods that can be labeled ‘low-fat.’”
Kessler is arguing for a complete overhaul of the ingredient facts panel and its permissible tiny type sizes and oftentimes misleading or confusing formats. He also says manufacturers should be required to aggregate added sugars because “at present, [manufacturers] can list different sweeteners separately-pushing ingredients such as fructose, corn syrup, sucralose, brown rice syrup, and maltodextrin to lower positions on the list.” More importantly, Kessler suggests front-of-package labeling, even though previous attempts have failed. His front-of-package labeling idea would mandate the listing of a product’s top three ingredients, its total calories, and the number of additional ingredients that would then be available on the extended facts panel wherever that is.
Kessler’s ideas are admittedly not totally fleshed out, but he says they are a starting place for achieving what should be FDA’s primary goal with new labeling laws: to encourage the sale and consumption of products rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
David Kessler was FDA commissioner from 1990 to 1997.
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