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More and more people are becoming concerned about what they eat due to health issues such as disease and their weight, especially if they consume food products that are manufactured in food industries. However, it is hard to know what exactly you are consuming due to food industries providing false nutritional content which misleads consumers by placing false advertising on the packaging. When a company produces a product that contains misleading label, consumers are not able to receive complete information about the food they are eating which could lead to health issues including allergies and problems with diabetes.
At this point, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has started to increase regulations for prepared foods, however, only a few years ago they had some vague laws concerning these foods and companies were capable of getting away with a lot more than what they do now. The reasons for this, was the FDA was more concerned about the certain effects store bought food had on people and were less concerned about misleading labels on packaging. However, they seem to have become more aware of the fact that many of these food companies tend to be tricking consumers into believing that their product is the one of best out there for them, and so the FDA has need to start to regulate companies that have false advertisements.
One thing that they did change, back in 1990, was labeling on the variety pack foods. Before this law got passed, some food companies would present one nutrition chart, for multiple types of foods present in the variety pack, which left other foods unlabeled. Nathan Anderson emphasizes that it is very important to a have food label for every food in variety packs. To support his claim he provided the example of his niece who has diabetes and was eating butter popcorn from a popcorn variety tin: the girl did not notice different amounts of carbohydrates in that particular popcorn, so she gave herself the regular dose of insulin, which turned out to be 50% less than she should of received. This mistake resulted in a sleepless night, as she had to get up each hour to check her sugar level and give herself additional doses of insulin. The next day Anderson checked the popcorn tin’s labeling, and the food company had only presented one nutritional value for the cheese popcorn, even though it contained three different kinds. He noted that this situation could have turned out a lot worse than it did, if his niece had chosen the caramel popcorn, which contained more carbohydrates than cheese popcorn. She would have overdosed on insulin, which would have caused a lot more harm than simply having a high sugar level. The FDA did take a notice of this event and sent out a warning to that particular food company, asking them to change the nutritional value labels on their popcorn tins. (Anderson, 2008)
This example shows that even if the food packaging is labeled correctly and approved by the FDA, companies can still hide information from consumers. They are allowed to say that their food products contain 0 grams of trans fat, as long as one serving contains less than .5 grams of trans fat. Although, food companies should not be allowed to hide trans fats like these, as they are unhealthy for our bodies and health and may cause serious health issues for some people which could result in hospitalization. As a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association Andrea Giancoli states it “Trans fats raise your bad cholesterol just like saturated fats, but they also increase inflammation and lower the good cholesterol that protects us against heart disease.”(MacMillan, 2013) Serving sizes have not changed since the 1980s when people ate less than we do now. On average, a consumer is going to consume well over the recommended 2 grams trans-fat per day, a sure way to check if food contains any trans fats is to look at the ingredients; hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, then it contains some amount of trans fat, that is less than or equal to .5grams. However, there are foods that cannot be made without trans fats, which include: cake, anything deep fried, certain types of crackers and some meat products that produce trans fats on their own. As the FDA is not thinking of changing their laws about trans-fat labeling, consumers have to be aware on their own about nutritional content of foods they are consuming. With this knowledge, the FDA should at least try to educate people about the content of manufactured foods and inform people about hidden trans fats in certain foods. A good thing is that the FDA asked fast food restaurants to reduce the amount of trans fat in their foods, probably because this is becoming a more popular food choice for many people.
Few other things that food companies can get away with are presenting misleading label claims involving “whole wheat”, “all natural” and “good for health”. The FDA does not have very strict regulations concerning these claims, which gives companies free will to use these labels as they want to increase their product sales. When a food product contains a label “all natural” in can still contain artificial additives, while containing small amount of natural ingredients. The reason for this misleading claim is that the FDA has not presented a specific definition for “natural”, which allows food industries to add highly processed ingredients, to so called “all natural” foods. However, products that contain meat are required by law to be “natural” because the Department of Agriculture regulates these products, instead of the FDA. In this case, consumers should buy organic foods instead of all natural, as the FDA has a specific definition for “organic”, which requires food companies to follow their guide lines. The FDA also pays close attention to the ingredients and correct labeling of these products.
When it comes to labels as “whole wheat”, the FDA has poor regulations regarding this label, so yet again consumers have to pay close attention to the ingredients list, to check if that particular food product is actually “whole wheat”. Sometimes products that are labeled as “whole wheat” contain more of white wheat, rather than whole grain wheat. To get that brown coloring, companies can use brown food colors to darken regular white wheat and add minimal amounts of whole wheat flour, so they could be able to claim that their food product is made out of whole wheat flour. When checking the ingredient list, it is important to notice how far down whole wheat four is located, which would indicate the amount of it, comparing to white wheat flour. As the ingredients have to be listed in order of most to the least, best whole grain products would have whole wheat flour listed as the first or second ingredient. One thing that could help consumers with figuring out how much whole grain a certain food contains, the FDA should require food companies to add gram amount next to the whole grain wheat and regular white wheat flour. However, to do this, the FDA needs to start caring more about these types of misleading claims and assign a specific amount of whole wheat flour that is required to be present in a product, for it to be considered an actual “whole wheat” food product.
Although the FDA has issued a regulation governing the use of “sugar free”, “reduced” and “no added sugars” it has not issued a regulation governing “low sugar” (Heller, I.R., & Silverglade, B. (2010). This allows food industries to confuse consumers into believing that their highly sugared foods contain low amounts of sugar, and not be charged by the FDA as they are technically following their guidelines. To solve this confusion about “low sugar” content in foods, the FDA should specify or define what it means to have “low” amounts of sugar, or establish daily value for sugar, as a lot of people do not know how much sugar they should be consuming throughout the day.
Meanwhile some companies are trying to trick customers into buying their products with false advertising there are products that are good for one’s health and are FDA approved. However, products who claim that they “supports the immune system” or “maintain healthy heart” could be false advertising, because the FDA does not support these claims. Many times, these claims, and others include that the product is an excellent source of different vitamins and usually are present on fruit or vegetable juices, because it seems normal that a juice should have some kind of positive effect on our bodies. For example, V8 claims that their juices will help support immune system and are excellent source of vitamins A, C & E; however, as these vitamins are added in process of manufacturing, V8 should not be allowed to falsely claim that their juice is helping ones immune system as there is evidence that these vitamins will not help to protect against disease. Claims with words like “support”, “enhance,” and “maintain” need no hard evidence, according to the FDA, meaning that the FDA, once again, is not very concerned about protecting use of these words and most likely they have not defined meaning of these claims.
The best way how to improve misleading food labels is for the FDA to finally look at the false claims made by food industries expand on their already set regulations, making it harder for companies to get around them. However, if the FDA believes that their regulations are as specific as they can get, then there should be at least somebody to educate consumers about food labels and add more detail to nutritional value charts. Because without changing the way how information is provided and educating people, they will not be able to change their diets to improve nations overall health.
- Andersen, N. (2008). Misleading food hazards – multiple choices, one answer. Retrieved from http://www.law.uh.edu/healthlaw/perspectives/2008/(NA) labels.pdf
- Dusen, A.V. (2013, June 29). Nine ways food labels mislead. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/2008/07/20/health-labels-food-forbeslife-cx_avd_0720health.html#5170f12174bc7
- Heller, I.R., & Silverglade, B. (2010). Food labeling chaos. Retrieved from https://cspinet.org/sites/default/files/attachment/food_labeling_chaos_report.pdf
- MacMillan, A. (2013, September 13). 22 Trans Fat Foods That You Need to Look Out For – AMAC – The Association of Mature American Citizens. Retrieved from https://amac.us/22-trans-fat-foods-need-look/
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