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CSPI proposes nutrition label makeover

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 08-Dec-2009

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has proposed a makeover for nutrition labeling, including more emphasis on calories, added sugars, saturated and trans fats, and sodium.

The campaigning organization is also calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to crack down on deceptive health claims, to mandate the labeling of caffeine content, and to disallow companies from claiming that a product contains zero grams of trans fat if it is high in saturated fat.

CSPI’s proposals come as the FDA is engaged in a public consultation on changing the Nutrition Facts panel in order to make it easier for consumers to understand and to make informed choices about the nutritional content of their diets. (Its proposals can be found online here .)

The FDA has also taken issue with several food manufacturers in recent months, including objecting to claims on Cheerios breakfast cereal that it can “Lower Your Cholesterol 4% in 6 weeks”, and launching an investigation into the Smart Choices labeling program, which featured a green check mark on products deemed to be healthy. Critics objected to the high sugar content of some of the foods included on the program, and it has since been halted.

CSPI legal affairs director Bruce Silverglade said: "So many packaged foods are little more than white flour, fat, sugar, salt and additives in various combinations, yet they are marketed as modern-day medical miracles, offering vague benefits for virtually every part of the body.

“The FDA has recently challenged some especially egregious health claims, such as the exaggerated cholesterol-reduction claims on Cheerios. But the agency should put a permanent stop to a wide range of other deceptive claims."

CSPI claims that food makers use ‘tricks’ to deceive consumers about the nutritional content of their products. For example, it says that different forms of added sugars should be grouped together on ingredient lists “so that they would show up higher on the list of ingredients,” and recommends that manufacturers should be required to detail how much grain in a product is whole, if they make a “made with whole grain” claim.

A ‘before’ and ‘after’ example of the CSPI’s proposals can be accessed here .

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