Government advisors call for new, easy-to-understand food labels


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Should those salty, fatty chips be X-rated?

The Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academies, has recommended a new nutrition rating system for the front of food and beverage packages, to help consumers ‘instantly recognize healthier products.’

That’s not to say future food labels will follow Hollywood’s rating system -- the institute leaves it up to the Food and Drug Administration to come up with what should appear on packages.


But the institute calls for a simpler, easier-to-understand system like one used on appliances to rate energy efficiency.

The recommended system would assign points to show whether saturated and trans fats, sodium and added sugars in products are below threshold levels. The more points a food or beverage has, the more healthful it is, according to the report.

The institute would like to see points displayed on packaging as check marks, stars or some other icon to be determined by the FDA. It also recommended that the front of packages also convey calorie counts by serving size.

Consumers face a daunting challenge when trying to make healthful food choices, ‘exacerbated by the proliferation of front-of-package and shelf tag nutrition rating symbols and logos,’’ the report says. ‘Not surprising, consumers trying to make choices in a short amount of time among packages cluttered with information and with different nutrition rating systems may have difficulty choosing healthier products.’

A new front-of-package system should ‘move beyond simply informing consumers about nutrition facts,’ the report says, adding that its goal should also be to ‘encourage healthier choices and purchase behaviors.’

The Grocery Manufacturers Assn. said in a statement responding to the report, ‘Consumers have told us that they want simple and easy-to-use information ... rather than have government tell them what they should and should not eat.’


The grocery association said that it and the Food Marketing Institute earlier this year developed a voluntary front-of-the-package labeling system based on extensive consumer testing that highlights calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugar content.


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--Richard Simon in Washington