IOM Proposes Front-of-Package Nutrition Labeling

November 1, 2011

The system, intended to be required for eligible food and beverage products, has already been met with criticism.

Following a request from U.S. Congress, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have, with the support of FDA and USDA, published a proposal for a point-based front-of-package labeling system for critical nutrients. The system, intended to be required for eligible food and beverage products, has already been met with criticism.

The IOM report recommends that FDA develop, test, and implement a single, standard front-of-packaging system-presumably its own-to replace the variety of front-of-packaging labels already on the market. The IOM labeling proposal is two-pronged: first, a calorie listing per serving, and second, a 0 to 3 point system to clarify levels of critical nutrients present in a product, which health-minded consumers should look out for.

It is in the IOM’s opinion that foods and beverages should be evaluated by trans fats and saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars. If a product were to reach a level above the established threshold for any of these nutrients, that product would be ineligible for points in that category. One point would be scored for each nutrient within acceptable levels in a given product.

“For example, 100% whole wheat bread could earn all three points, graham crackers could earn two points for fats and sodium, and an oat and peanut butter bar could earn one point for sodium,” reads the IOM report briefing.

While initially supporting the IOM proposal as a sensible step in the right direction, consumer advocacy group the Centers for Science in the Public Interest (Washington, DC) points to glaring holes in what would be a mandatory requirement for food and beverage manufacturers.

“For instance, it gives no consideration to foods’ vitamin, mineral, fiber, or protein content,” said CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson. “Also, white bread, whole wheat bread, broccoli, artificially sweetened soft drinks, and artificially colored and flavored diet Jell-O would all have top scores of three.”