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Ingredient Labels Sought on Fast Foods : Groups Ask Government to ‘Lift Veil of Secrecy’

Associated Press

A coalition of consumer and health groups petitioned the government Monday to require ingredient labels on the millions of burgers, fries, shakes and other fast-food items consumed daily by Americans.

“We believe it’s time to lift the veil of secrecy from fast foods. We believe consumers have a right to know what they’re eating,” said Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Jacobson and other consumer and health experts announced the filing of petitions with the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture seeking the label requirement.

“Consumers rely on ingredient disclosure to avoid substances to which they are allergic or that are linked to diet-related diseases,” Jacobson said. “Unfortunately, without informative labeling, the composition of fast foods remains a mystery. This leaves health-conscious consumers completely in the dark.”

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Helpful to Those With Allergies

The government can insist on the labels, Jacobson said, but to date has deferred to the states, which have failed to act.

Knowing the ingredients in a fast-food product is important to many people, especially those with allergies and those seeking to avoid saturated fat, salt or other ingredients that have questionable health effects, Jacobson said.

Many thousands of people are allergic to certain ingredients such as dyes, artificial flavorings and even corn sugar, milk solids, monosodium glutamate and sulfites, said Dr. Joseph A. Bellanti, an allergist from Georgetown University.

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“My patients should not be forced to play Russian Roulette . . . every time they eat a fast-food meal,” said Bellanti, who serves on the food allergy committee of the American College of Allergists.

“Whether or not some consumers must avoid certain ingredients for health reasons, all consumers are entitled to know whether a food product is worth the price,” added Richard M. Kessel, executive director of the New York state Consumer Protection Board.

Kessel said he believes that ingredient labeling would be a boon for fast-food sellers, allowing many of them to point to the nutritious ingredients that they use as a means of defraying the “junk food” criticism often leveled at them.

Since most fast foods are sold in wrappers or plastic packages, with an effort being made to have them of consistent quality nationwide, adding ingredient labels should be simple and inexpensive, Jacobson said.

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And, he noted, the petition would exempt chains with fewer than 10 outlets so as not to place a burden on small neighborhood businesses.

Posters in Restaurants

Currently, labels listing ingredients are required of packaged foods sold in markets but not of restaurant foods.

In addition to the label lists, the consumer groups also asked that the chains voluntarily display posters listing the ingredients of their products so that buyers could look for problem ingredients before ordering.

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Jacobson noted that, before filing the petitions, his private, nonprofit consumer nutrition group asked several major fast-food chains to provide lists of their product ingredients for publication.

Only Arby’s, based in Atlanta, provided a full list of food ingredients, according to a report in the center’s newsletter. Most other chains either failed to reply or declined to provide the lists


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