Consumer group seeks food label changes

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy group, is asking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make changes in its food labeling regulations and to prohibit dozens of specific claims that are now appearing on food packages.

CSPI charged that many packages misleadingly imply significant amounts of healthful ingredients that are present in only trivial amounts, if at all. "You have to read the fine print with a magnifying glass to tell what's really inside the package," complained Bruce Silverglade, CSPI's director of legal affairs. In addition to prohibiting specific claims cited by CSPI, it has petitioned FDA to require all foods that claim to be made with healthful ingredients to prominently disclose the amount of the ingredient contained in a serving of the food. The group also urged FDA to prohibit misleading illustrations on labels and to prohibit companies from implying that foods contain much less sugar than they actually do. The problem, said CSPI, is that the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) covers only claims about nutrients. Misleading claims about ingredients are not specifically covered, although FDA has authority to prohibit dishonest food labeling. CSPI's petition drew a sharp response from the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA). Charging the "so-called consumer advocacy" group with "again at-tempting to lead the public and the media into a garden of delusion," GMA director of communication Susan Mirvis said. "The facts are that all of the ingredients and nutrition information that shoppers need to make purchasing decisions is on the packages." An overwhelming majority of consumers read labels, she added.

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