The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is seeking industry comments on a proposed agency-led study to evaluate how consumers respond to multiple nutrition labeling statements on food packages.
The FDA has sharpened its scrutiny of front of pack (FOP) nutrition symbols and claims particularly in the past two years. Following widespread criticism of the allocation of the Smart Choices program’s green check mark to sugary cereals in 2009, the agency said it intended to develop “standardized, science-based criteria” on which FOP nutrition labeling must be based.
The agency said in this latest proposal for research into the area that many food products carry multiple symbols and nutrition statements on-pack, but most previous research has singled out just one type of labeling statement and its effects on consumer perceptions and purchasing behavior. Although this approach helps to pinpoint the influence of each particular labeling type, the FDA noted that consumers are faced with multiple labeling statements in the grocery store.
Therefore, the agency claims that it may be useful to examine consumers’ responses to combinations of labeling statements, how different characteristics of those statements interact with each other, and whether or how these statements affect use of the Nutrition Facts panel.
“Results of the study will be used primarily to enrich the Agency's understanding of how multiple claims and other labeling statements on food packages may affect how consumers perceive a product or a label, which may in turn affect their dietary choices,” the FDA said in a Federal Register notice.
Examples of nutrition symbols that have been proposed or are already in use include nutrient-specific labeling, such as Guideline Daily Amounts; calorie labeling; summary symbols (like Smart Spot); summaries combined with nutrient-specific disclosure (like ‘Sensible Solution: Good Source of Calcium, Good Sources of 8 Vitamins and Minerals’); and claims about how products are grown or made.
The FDA also gave examples of different types of nutrition label statements, including health claims, nutrient content claims such as ‘low fat’, and structure/function claims. These three types of claims are regulated differently but all of them must be truthful and not misleading.
The FDA’s proposed study would be a controlled randomized experiment based on a 15-minute web-based survey of 4,000 English-speaking US adults.
More information on the proposed research, as well as instructions on how to submit comments, is available here .