Food makers play "fool the shopper" what's on the package isn't always what's in the food

New 'ingredient facts' label proposed

WASHINGTON - Strawberry yogurt with no strawberries. Carrot cake with more salt than carrot. Peaches and Cream oatmeal with no peaches. Because of such trickery, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is asking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to stop deceptive claims and to require labels to declare the percentages of key ingredients, something that is already required in many countries. Also, CSPI formally petitioned the FDA to establish a new, more-readable “Ingredient Facts” label to enable people to know what’s in their food.

     The “ingredient secrets” are unmasked in the July/August 2001Nutrition Action Healthletterpublished by CSPI. At a Washington press conference, CSPI charged that some manufacturers are featuring certain ingredients in the names of their foods, but providing little or none in the actual foods. Some examples include:

  • Stonyfield Farms Strawberry Stratosphere Yosqueeze yogurt has no berries — only beet juice to simulate a strawberry color, plus natural flavors.
  • Quaker Strawberries & Cream and Peaches & Cream Oatmeal do not contain strawberries or peaches, just dried apple bits with artificial color.
  • Betty Crocker Stir ’n Bake Carrot Cake Mix lists carrotpowder as the last ingredient, which means the cake mix has more salt, cinnamon, red dye, xanthan gum, and other additives than carrot powder.
  • The label on Nissin Cup Noodles promises “more shrimp,” but the cups examined by CSPI contained only zero to four tiny shrimp.

     “Companies that use labels to trick people into believing that a food contains more nutritious ingredients than it does are cheating consumers’ pocketbooks and health,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson.

     “The government makes strong efforts to help individuals achieve a good diet,” said Susan Roberts, Professor of Nutrition at Tufts University and author of Feeding Your Child for Lifelong Health. “The trouble is, some food manufacturers are trying to irresponsibly capitalize on consumer interest in healthy eating by making their products appear to be more healthful than they really are. What that effectively does is make it harder for consumers to eat the healthy diet that they need.”

     CSPI has asked the FDA to require companies to disclose the percentages of key ingredients in their products. The U.S. lags behind Australia, New Zealand, the 15-member European Union, and Thailand, which already require some form of percentage ingredient labeling.

     “European consumers can readily see that Campbell’s chicken soup contains 6% chicken, while a Heinz chicken soup contains only 2% chicken,” said Bruce Silverglade, CSPI director of legal affairs. “It’s ironic that those American companies deny the same information to Americans.”

     CSPI is also petitioning the FDA for new rules that would make ingredient lists easier to read. That could be accomplished with a design similar to the “Nutrition Facts” label, designed by Greenfield-Belser Inc. At CSPI’s request, that firm has designed an “Ingredient Facts” label.

     “Ingredient listings are often printed in a small condensed typeface that is difficult to read. The FDA should require larger, clearer print in upper and lower case on a contrasting background following the same successful standards that are used on the Nutrition Facts label. The listing should be highlighted by being put in a box with the title ‘Ingredient Facts,’” said Burkey Belser, president of Greenfield-Belser.

     “It’s hard enough eating right and making sure your family eats right even if you know what you’re eating. But when the label on the food is deceptive, it’s almost impossible,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, (D-CA). “The Bush Administration should stop misleading and deceptive food labeling.”

     “Inaccurate food labeling is not just a nuisance; it’s a serious — potentially deadly — health hazard for the millions who suffer from food allergies,” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-NY), author of the Food Allergen Consumer Protection Act. “It’s time to hold the food industry accountable to consumers. We must pass legislation that requires accurate, complete, and reliable food labels so that our families can feel confident about the food on their tables.”