Former First Lady Obama criticizes efforts to delay Nutrition Facts changes as insulting to consumers

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Obama criticizes efforts to delay Nutrition Facts changes as insulting
Requests to delay the implementation of the updated Nutrition Facts panel, which includes a line to indicate added sugar and makes calories more visible, and a last-minute delay of menu labeling regulations are insulting to consumers, suggests Former First Lady Michelle Obama.

“Keep families ignorant,”​ is the message that some in the food and beverage industry are sending by asking to push back the current July 2018 implementation date​ for large companies for the Nutrition Facts labeling changes that were unveiled a year ago, Obama said May 12 at the Partnership for a Healthier America’s Building A Healthier Future Summit in Washington, DC.

“That is all I am hearing: ‘You don’t need to know what is in your food. You can’t handle it, Mom. Just buy this, be quiet, spend your money, buy this [and] don’t ask what is in your food,’”​ Obama said.

Directing her message to “moms,”​ she added: “This is information that you should know. We should change the label to make it clearer and easier for you to break down what you want to buy. So, consumers out there … I would be highly insulted by that thought. You want to talk about a nanny state and government intervention? Well, ‘You just buy the food and be quiet. You don’t know what is in it.’ That is essentially what a move like this is saying.”

Redirecting her attention to food and beverage companies, Obama asked, “Why don’t you want to tell us what they are eating? They are probably going to still buy it. Just help us out. That is all. Help us, companies. Help us be good parents. Help us do the right thing. Just help us.”

That is exactly what some companies seeking the delay want to do though. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which supports a delay, argues that industry needs more time and additional guidance from FDA in order to fully understand what changes to make and how to do so in the most user-friendly manner as possible.

Others in the industry argue the delay is necessary because other changes to product labels, such as the biotech labeling requirement, are coming down the pipe and it would be easier for consumers if all the changes were made at the same time.

Whether or not the Nutrition Facts label changes are delayed, Obama urged consumers to take action now, by supporting companies that already disclose what is in their products and use the new label.

“I want to support companies who want to help me as a mother. That is who I want to give my dollars to,” ​she said, adding, “I am not going to tell you what to make. I just want you to help me understand how you do it. What are doing? What is this doing to my kid? What is this doing to me? And what is this doing to my family? Is it helping? Is it making it harder for us? Just let us know.”

She urged consumers to follow her lead, noting, “We have the power. … You buy what you buy and they will follow your dollars.”

This message echoes that of some industry consultants​ who say that companies that make the switch to the new label will have first crack at winning over shoppers and showing them that they are responsive to their desire for more information. 

Obama defends stricter school nutrition standards

Obama voiced similar frustration about new US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s announcement May 1 to ease nutrition requirements for school meal programs in order to make food choices more appealing to students.

The proclamation will allow states to grant exemptions to schools struggling with the requirement to serve 100% whole grains starting next school year. It also will not require through 2020 schools to meet stricter sodium reduction targets that were set to go into effect next year, and it will allow schools once again to serve 1% flavored milk.

Perdue said in a statement from USDA that the change comes in response to feedback from students and schools about the challenges of meeting the final regulations, including complaints that children don’t like and are not eating the more nutritious and lower-fat and -sodium options.

The argument that the standards should be eased because children don’t like the more nutritious options is “one of the most ridiculous things we talk about,”​ Obama said.

“How about we not let kids completely guide everything? Let’s start there. Stop asking kids how they feel about their food. Because kids, my kids included, if they can eat pizza and French fries every day with ice cream on top and a soda, they would think they were happy. Until they got sick,”​ Obama said.

She also countered, “Kids don’t like math either. So, what are going to do? Stop teaching math? Are we going to cut history because there are kids who are bored by history? Look, we are the adults in the room. … So let’s lead as adults.”

Directing her comments again to parents she urged, “Moms, think about this. I don’t care what state you live in. Take me out of the equation – like me or don’t like me. But think about why someone is okay with your kids eating crap. Why would you celebrate that? Why would you sit idly by and be okay with that? Because here is the secret: If someone is doing that, they don’t care about your kid.”

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2 comments

Labels: the good and the bad

Posted by Dr. Susie,

The older labels tell you the same thing as the new ones--as far as macronutrients goes--the new ones are just EASIER to read calories and ADDED sugar. Love that change. However,
I don't like the new labels because of the confusion on FDA"s self proclaimed definition of Dietary Fiber. The cost of the label is nothing compared to new formulation, new stability testing, new tastes, etc. THAT is the issue with "labels" for me--a PHD nutritionist and formulator of healthy products.

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Labels already change every day

Posted by Jenny,

The vast majority of processed food companies can roll out label changes at any time, without much extra effort. So the "we need more time" complaint is a red herring.
Also, informed consumers are scary to food companies. Consumers, by and large, want to KNOW what is in their food. And food processors want to hide what's in the food so that they can choose the lowest cost ingredients- like HFCSyrup. If all the ingredients, AND nutrients, are on the label, then the quality manufacturers will usually win more customers. And the parents who are seeking clean, non-reactive foods for their children will have the ability to do so.

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