Seeing as how I pretty much always have to count calories to keep my girlish figure, I'm thrilled that the FDA is cracking down on misleading nutrition labeling. Earlier this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration notified 17 food manufacturers that the labeling for 22 of their food products violates the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The action follows an October 2009 statement by Commissioner of Food and Drugs Margaret Hamburg, M.D., encouraging companies to review their labeling to ensure that they were truthful and in compliance with FDA regulations. In an open letter dated March 3 of this week, Dr. Hamburg underscored the importance of providing nutrition information that consumers could rely on. "Today, ready access to reliable information about the calorie and nutrient content of food is even more important, given the prevalence of obesity and diet-related diseases in the United States," she said, also expressing her hope that the warning letters would clarify the FDA's expectations for food manufacturers as they review their current labeling. The violations cited in the warning letters include unauthorized health claims, unauthorized nutrient content claims, and the unauthorized use of terms such as "healthy," and others that have strict, regulatory definitions. Companies that received warning letters - which include Nestle, Beech-nut, Gorton's Inc. and Dreyers Grand Ice Cream Inc. - have 15 business days to inform the FDA of the steps they will take to correct their labeling.
The warning letters are the FDA's most recent action to help improve consumers' ability to make nutritious choices. The idea is that many consumers fall into the trap of misleading food labels. This is especially true for products that catch attention with promises of "healthy" self-endorsements, but mislead with calorie counts and serving sizes. The deceptive labeling leads consumers to think they are getting fewer calories or more health benefits than they actually are. The FDA soon will propose guidance regarding calorie and nutrient labeling on the front of food packages and plans to work collaboratively with the food industry to design and implement innovative approaches to front-of-package labeling that can help consumers choose healthy diets.