IDFA Urges FDA to Keep Use of Nutrition Symbols Voluntary
Responding to the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) request for comments on the use of nutrition symbols on product labels and packaging, IDFA stressed the importance of keeping any possible new nutrition symbol programs both voluntary and flexible for manufacturers. IDFA also urged FDA to provide appropriate consumer education and to monitor any new program, if adopted, for maximum effectiveness.
Nutrition symbols are icons, usually placed on the front of a food package, that highlight the overall nutrient profile of a food or a particular nutrient provided by that food, such as "excellent source of calcium." Currently, some including food manufacturers, retailers and associations have their own voluntary systems with various criteria.
"Our members agree that consistent standards for nutrition symbols for labeling may be helpful to consumers in making food choices when they want to consider nutrition," IDFA states in its comments. "However, we believe that consistent standards already exist in the regulations regarding nutrient content claims, so that additional mandatory requirements are unnecessary."
IDFA believes that companies should be free to decide whether to use nutrition symbols based on their individual products, their labels and their customers. A mandatory system could have the unwanted effect of separating foods into "good" and "bad" groups, and could force costly label changes with no additional benefit to consumers, IDFA said in comments filed earlier this month.
The comments provide additional recommendations in the event that FDA decides to make nutrition symbol labeling a mandatory requirement for all food and beverage manufacturers. Transparency, for example, would become a key element for manufacturers as well as consumers, IDFA said.
"If a company is required to place a symbol on its label, that company should also have the ability to understand how to revise its formulation or recipe in order to qualify for a higher rating," the comments state.
IDFA warns against employing a single symbol to summarize all nutritional characteristics of a food or beverage, saying it would be too simplistic and possibly misleading. Consumers with specific health concerns, such as hypertension, often look for a specific nutrient or set of nutrients to meet their needs, and a single "good choice" nutrient symbol wouldn't provide enough information to make an informed decision.
In addition, IDFA believes that symbols should not convey unintended meanings, they must be flexible to communicate information companies deem important and consumers want to know, and they should include positive nutrients to be encouraged, not just nutrients that should be limited.
Because consumers use a variety of factors when choosing which foods and beverages to buy, IDFA urges FDA to test and evaluate any potential symbol program to ensure that the symbols are actually helping consumers and not unintentionally steering them away from nutrient-rich foods. IDFA recommends testing the symbol program during implementation as well as one year after it has been in use, and supporting it with an effective educational campaign that explains what the symbols mean, how they were developed and how consumers can use them.
To read IDFA's comments, click here.
For more information, contact Michelle Matto, IDFA assistant director of regulatory affairs, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-734-4332.
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Posted November 19, 2007