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You Can't Have Good Nutrition Without Good Information

The scientists, regulators, inspectors, and others at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are eager to join First Lady Michelle Obama and our Lets Move! partners in the fight against childhood obesity.

You can't have good nutrition without good information. As Commissioner of Food and Drugs, I've made accurate and useful nutrition labeling one of my top priorities.

In recent months, the FDA has received increasing numbers of complaints that many food labels give a misleading picture of the health benefits. In October 2009, I announced that the FDA would be examining a variety of food products to determine whether their labels violated the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. I said then that we would be placing particular emphasis on claims and statements made on the principal display panel of food products, often referred to as front-of-package labeling.

That labeling is designed to grab a shopper's attention, but frequently it doesn't provide a full picture of the nutritional picture of a product. The FDA wants to ensure that statements made on food package labeling are truthful, meaningful, and useful in helping consumers make healthy food choices that contribute to healthy diets.

As a result of consumer complaints and surveys conducted by agency specialists, the FDA recently issued Warning Letters to 17 companies it has identified as having labels one or more of their products that violate federal law. Some examples include:

  • Claims that a product is beneficial because it is free of trans fats and, therefore, a healthy choice, when, in fact, it is high in saturated fat that may not be beneficial.
  • Products that claim to treat or mitigate disease are considered to be drugs in the context of nutrition labeling laws, and must prove that such claims are valid.
  • Juice products whose labels mislead consumers into believing that they are 100 percent of a specific juice, when they are actually juice blends.

Companies that receive Warning Letters have 15 business days to tell the FDA what steps they will be taking to correct their labels.

Fortunately, these examples and others cited in the Warning Letters are not typical of the industry. In my conversations with industry leaders, I sense a strong desire within the industry for a level playing field and a commitment to producing safe, health products.

I'm confident that food manufacturers and the FDA will continue to work cooperatively, as we have in the past, to develop a practical, science-based, front-of-the-package system we all can use to choose healthier foods for healthier diets.